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Contribution towards a Biography 





Contribution towards a Biography 

Preface by Professor Massimo Marcocchi 
of the Catholic University of Milan 

Introduction by Professor Christopher Cairns 
of the University of Aberystwyth (Wales) 

Translated by M. Ignatius Stone 


Original Italian: Angela Merici. Contributo per una biografia. 
Editrice Ancora, Milano, 1986 

All rights reserved 

© editrice Ancora milano 

Via G.B. Niccolini, 8 - 20 1 54 Milano - Tel. (02) 
N.A. 3245 - Luglio 1989 

Fotocomposizione: Scuola Grafica Salesiana - Roma 
Stampa: Scuole Grafiche Pavoniane - Milano 

ISBN 88-7610-291-4 

by jour holy Name, 
may it be blessed 
above the sand of the sea, 
above the drops of rain, 
above the multitude of stars. 

Angela Merici 



AC Brescia 

Diocesan Archives in S. Giuseppe, Capitular Archives 



State Archives 



Archivio Storico Civico, at the Biblioteca Queriniana 



Episcopal Archives 



Biblioteca Queriniana 


Desenzano (BS) 

Archivio Antico Comunale 



Archivio Storico Diocesano 



State Archives 



Biblioteca Ambrosiana 



Biblioteca Trivulziana 



Archivum Generale Ursulinarum Unionis Romanae 



National Library 



Biblioteca Vallicelliana 


Salo (BS) 

Archivio Antico del Comune 



Vatican Secret Archives 



Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana 



Patriarchal Seminary Archives 







Document in the Documentary Appendix 

Box of “polizze d’estimo” in the ASC 

Secondo Libro Generale 

Process Acts of Beatification and Canonisation of Angela Merici 
Process Acts at the ASV, S.C. Rituum 

N.B. The edition of the documents is the common scientific edition: the abbreviations have been 
more or less developed according to the situation; punctuation, capital or small letters, letters u and 
v t and i and j have been adapted to the modern usage. The same for the accents. 

The original form of the Italian texts quoted, and translated in the volume, is usually given in the 
footnotes, unless they are taken from the texts transcribed in the Documentary Appendix. 


Foreword XV 

Introduction: Saint Angela Merici in her time . XIX 


I. Documentary sources 3 

1. Documents from Desenzano and Salo 3 

a) Desenzano 4 

b) Salo 7 

2. Documentation from Brescia 9 

a) Angela Merici’s circle 9 

b) The religious situation 11 

c) Institutes of good works 15 

3. Specific documentation 18 

a) Writings of Angela Merici 19 

b) Writings of Gabriele Cozzano 25 

c) Books of the Company 27 

d) Documents of the Church 30 

e) Executed deeds 34 

II. General outline of Merician historiography 37 

1. 16th and 17th centuries 38 

a) Francesco Landini 38 

b) Giovan Battista Nazari 40 

c) Mattia Bellintani 44 

d) Ottavio Gondi 48 

e) Jean-Hugues Quarre 52 

f) Bernardino Faino 56 

2. 18th and 19th centuries 58 

a) Carlo Doneda 58 

b) Girolamo Lombardi 60 

c) Germano Jacopo Gussago 62 


d) Filippo Maria Salvatori 63 

3. 20th century 64 

a) Giuditta Bertolotti 65 

b) Cecylja Lubienska 66 

c) Paolo Guerrini 68 

d) Antonio Cistellini 69 

e) Teresa Ledochowska 70 

PART 11 


I. The years at Desenzano 75 

1. The land of birth 75 

2. The Merici family 77 

a) The Mericis 78 

b) Relatives at Said 83 

c) Giovanni Merici 85 

d) Everyday life 90 

3. Angela Merici 99 

a) Childhood and adolescence 99 

b) The vision at the “Machetto” 102 

II. The stay at Salo and the return to Desenzano 107 

1. Said 108 

a) Youth 108 

b) “Ability to read” 112 

c) Austere life 113 

d) The Franciscan tertiary 117 

e) “The Tempter” 122 

2. Desenzano 123 

a) The return 123 

b) The vision of the “ladder” 124 

c) The “Brudazzo” 127 

d) “Sur Anzola” 128 

III. The years at Brescia: the witnesses 131 

a) Caterina Patengola 132 

b) Girolamo Patengola 134 

c) Giovan Antonio Romano 137 

d) Agostino Gallo 139 

e) Giacomo Chizzola 140 

f) Gabriele Cozzano 145 

g) Isabetta Prato 148 

h) Two minor witnesses 156 


IV. The years at Brescia: the testimonies 159 

a) The “apostolic” life 159 

b) The life of prayer 163 

c) The life of penance 167 

d) The “good offices” 170 

e) The service of the word 175 

V. The pilgrimages 183 

1. In the Holy Land 184 

a) Towards the Holy Places 184 

b) At Jerusalem 191 

c) The return 192 

d) The stay at Venice 195 

2. At Rome 199 

3. The invitations to remain 202 

a) The oldest testimonies 202 

b) The later interpretations 205 

4. At Mantua 211 

5. At Varallo 213 

Appendix Note 216 

a) The “Divino Amore” 216 

b) The Hospital for Incurables 218 

c) Merician circle - Divino Amore - Incurabili 221 

d) The Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity 226 

VI. The last ten years 229 

1. At Cremona 229 

2. The preliminaries of the foundation 232 

3. The last years 238 

a) At St Afra 238 

b) The death 240 

c) The burial 243 

VII. The foundation of the Company 253 

1. The wait 253 

2. The “patroness” Saint Ursula 258 

a) History and cult 259 

b) The legend 263 

c) Angela - Saint Ursula 266 

3. The realisation 270 

a) The first virgins of the Company 270 

b) 25 November 1535 275 

VIII. The Company in act 283 

1. The legislation 284 


2. The government 291 

3. The members of the government 294 

a) The “virgins” 294 

b) The “matrons” 301 

c) The “men” 310 



I. The Company after 1540 317 

1. The crisis 318 

a) The initial bewilderment 318 

b) The pressure towards the cloistered life 319 

c) The cincture 322 

2. The pontifical approval 329 

a) The petition 330 

b) The recipients and the executors 334 

c) The executory process 342 

d) The concessions and the language 345 

Appendix Note 350 

The “books” of the Company 350 

II. From division to reunification 357 

1. The difficult succession 358 

a) The first signs 358 

b) The election of Veronica Buzzi 360 

2. Ginevra Luzzago 363 

a) The election 364 

b) The canonical confirmation 365 

3. The reconciliation 371 

III. Between institution and reform 375 

1. The chief initiatives 375 

a) The printing of the Rule 376 

b) The Company vis-a-vis the “law” 376 

c) The Ritual 380 

2. The institutional changes 388 

a) The new structures 388 

b) The “directory of offices” 392 

c) The intervention of Cardinal Borromeo 400 

IV. The Canonical Processes 407 

1. The preliminaries 407 

a) In the 16th century 407 

b) In the 17th century 410 


2. The process of beatification 415 

a) In the diocese of Rome 418 

b) In the diocese of Brescia 421 

c) At the Congregation of Rites 425 

3. The process of canonisation 433 

a) In the diocese of Brescia 433 

b) At the Roman Curia 437 

c) After 1790 444 

4. After the canonisation 447 

V. The Rule of the Company of Saint Ursula 451 

1. The Rule of Angela Merici 452 

2. The Rule of Brescia 460 

a) The Borromean reform 460 

b) The 1620 edition 465 

c) The 1672 edition 467 

d) The 1673 edition 470 

e) The Verzeri-Girelli Rule 473 

3. Other Rules 488 

a) The Rule of Foligno 488 

b) The Rules of Ferrara and Ferrara-Tournon 494 

c) The Rule of Bologna 505 

d) The Rule of Milan 513 

e) “Rule” and Rules 519 


1. Trivulzian codex of Rule 532 

2. Turlino edition of Rule 543 

3. Rule: Trivulzian codex and Turlino edition 553 

4. Ricordi (Counsels) 569 

5. Testamento (Legacies) 574 

6. Angela Merici’s act of election 579 

7. Angela Merici’s obituary notice 582 

8. Transcription of Angela Merici’s petition 582 

9. Letter of the Grand Penitentiary 583 

10. Office, rosary, discipline, hair-shirt: description 584 

11. Office, rosary, discipline, hair-shirt: donation 587 

12. Ancient tomb of Saint Angela 590 

13. “Rasse” (denunciations) 591 

14. Declarations of property 592 

15. Extract from a letter of Fr Francesco Landini 593 

16. Nazari Process 595 

17. Nazari’s Life 602 

18. Bull “Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae” 609 


19. Executory mandate 611 

20. Executory process 612 

21. Authentication of the transcription of the Bull 617 

22. Cozzano’s Letter of comfort to the virgins 618 

23. Cozzano’s Reply 626 

24. Cozzano’s Explanation of the Bull 644 

25. Giacomo Tribesco’s testimony 656 

26. Veronica Buzzi’s act of election 657 

27. Notarial act of 22 February 1545 659 

28. Notarial act of 23 November 1555 662 

29. Notarial act of 18 September 1556 663 

30. Notarial act of 31 May 1558 664 

31. Notarial act of 31 July 1558 666 

32. Will of Ginevra Luzzago 668 

33. Notarial act of 19 November 1559 671 

34. Little Office of Saint Ursula 674 

35. Merician iconography at Desenzano and at Verona 678 

36. Merician iconography at Brescia 683 

37. Summarium Additionale 688 

Bibliography 697 

Index 721 



In 1535 Angela Merici founded at Brescia the Company of St Ursula. Its 
members observed the evangelical counsels rvithout being bound by vows; they wore 
no particular habit; they did not lead a common life as in a monastic community, 
but lived with their own family and earned their own living. This initiative, aimed 
at inserting consecrated virgins into the world, introduced a feature of great innova- 
tion, as it took shape outside a monastery, in other words, outside the structure 
which for centuries had channelled religious life for women. 

Angela Merici and her Company have aroused a lively interest, especially in 
the 20th century, and this has resulted in an extensive work of documentary re- 
search and studies undertaken by Cecylja Tubienska, Paolo Guerrini, Antonio 
Cistellini, Battista Dassa and Teresa Tedochowska. And now, in their turn, 
Tuciana Mariani, Elisa Tarolli and Marie Seynaeve ponder reflectively on their 
spiritual mother, and devote to her this very rich volume, the fruit of many years' 
indefatigable archive-research. 

It is legitimate to ask what place the present research has within the whole 
framework of Merician historiography and what is its special significance. This vol- 
ume is not meant to be a biography of Angela Merici, but to make a contribution 
towards one. With this aim in mind, the authors have made a very thorough ar- 
chive-search, and as a result have discovered some new documents. This has led them 
to review critically the historiographical tradition, examining it in detail so as to 
discern what is historical, because based on sound, reliable sources, and what is de- 
rived from simple devotion or just a desire to eulogise. By re-reading the Merician 
documents already known, by studying them alongside other unpublished and un- 
tapped documents, and by comparing all this work very closely with the historio- 
graphical literature, the authors have reaped a rich harvest of precisions, rectifica- 
tions, integrations, and acquired new and solid material. 

It is impossible to go through all the intricate interweaving of this meticulous 
research. We just want to point out some of the many problems dealt with in the 
book so as to give an idea of its riches. Thanks to a systematic scrutiny of notarial 
deeds, of tax-registers and of libri provisionum, the authors present new elements 
about the Merici family ( its composition and economic conditions) , about Angela’s 
youth, and about her circle of Brescian friends ( Agostino Gallo, Giacomo Chi%- 
%ola, Antonio Romano ) who provided some very significant evidence during the in- 
formative process (commissioned in 1568 with an eventual beatification in mind 


and drawn up by the lawyer, Giovanni Battista Nasyiri ) . The figure of Gabriele 
Co^y ano stands out in this group, not only because he was a witness of the spiritual 
adventure of Angela Merici, but because he shared in it so passionately. 

Relying, in fact, on the depositions of the “Processo Na^ari” and on Co%ya- 
no’s writings, the authors throw light on Angela’ s religious experience. This is seen 
as an experience entirely centred on interior renewal ( the “lead a new life” of the 
7th Counsel ) and modelled on the life of the apostles and also of the virgins of the 
early Church, who were consecrated to Christ while remaining in the world. Ac- 
cording to the authors, the title apostolic, which Cosyano applies to the life of 
Angela Merici, must really be understood in the sense which corresponds to the se- 
quela Christi, such as it was carried out by the apostles, without reference to any 
kind of organised and systematic apostolate. The authors conclude from their re- 
search that Angela Merici played no specific role in any of the activity of the hos- 
pital organisations in Brescia - a theory put forward chiefly by Teresa Ledo- 
chowska - because “none of her biographers, none of the contemporary witnesses, di- 
rect or indirect, no written source, no oral tradition, has put Angela in close con- 
tact with the works of charity organised in Brescia, such as hospitals and other 
‘ l uoghi pH”’ . Certainly Angela Merici carried out “good works” on behalf of her 
neighbour, but relying on the evidence of her contemporaries and early biographers, 
the authors are convinced that this did not involve her in activities directed towards 
looking after the sick in hospital or coming to the aid of women, especially the poor 
and those led astray, but rather with the works of mercy proper to the Christian 
life: settling family quarrels, resolving disputes, bringing comfort, giving counsel, 
shedding light. 

After setting out the motives and the circumstances which led Angela to give 
birth to her foundation, the authors examine its numerous components. 

On the question of number, identity and social origin of Angela’s first follow- 
ers, only fragmentary and incomplete evidence has come to light, largely due to the 
loss of the register in which the names of the virgins had been inscribed from 2b 
November 1535, the day of the official foundation of the Company, just as vague 
are the faces of the women who carried out the office of “colonelle” , that is, local 
superiors, in the government of the Company. On the other hand, the “matron” 
governesses, those women belonging to the Brescian nobility, who have always been 
shadowy figures, now emerge from obscurity. It must not be forgotten that Angela 
Merici confided the government of the Company to women, reserving to four men 
the function of advisors in temporal matters. Well aware of treading on difficult 
ground, because of the dearth of documents known up to now, the authors have 
nevertheless carried out a very thorough research and discovered new facts, especially 
from executed deeds and fiscal returns. 

After Angela Merici’ s death in 1340, the Company underwent a deep crisis, 
emerging from it with features changed from the original. It was opposed both by 
the ecclesiastical world, which looked with suspicion on such a new and original 


experiment, and by the Brescian nobility, who regarded monasteries for women as 
institutions well suited for guaranteeing social stability by the fact that they wel- 
comed, often without a vocation, women not destined for marriage. Gabriele Cosp 
%ano gives evidence of this hostility in a memoir of 1544-1546 (Risposta contro 
quelli persuadono la clausura alle vergini di S. OrsolaJ. In it he describes as 
diabolic work the attempt to persuade Ursulines to enter a convent under the pre- 
text of greater perfection. Although he speaks with respect of the monastic voca- 
tion, Co^pano defends the legitimacy of the new form of life, considering it to be 
one path, among others, of reaching perfection. 

But the Company was also torn by internal dissensions, such as the one caused 
by the introduction of the leather cincture as a visible sign of consecration. These 
dissensions lasted until 1558, and then the Company patched up its wounds and 
moved forward to new structures, passing from a phase which we would call charis- 
matic to one that was institutional. This process of transformation is well docu- 
mented by the comparison made between the Regola dictated by Angela Merici to 
Cospano, which we do not have in the original but in the edition printed by Da- 
miano Turlino in 1569, and the Regola “ corrected by Charles Borromeo at the 
time of his apostolic visit to Brescia in 1580. A comparative examination of the 
two texts, carried out with finesse by the authors, brings to light some significant 
differences on the spiritual level, and even more on the level of structures. The 
Company, in fact, now finds itself enclosed within a scrupulously defined structure: 
suffice it to recall Chapter 12 of the original Rule, entitled Del Governo, which 
is expanded to no less than ten chapters, all dealing with offices. The most striking 
aspect of this institutional phase appears very clearly in the chapter on obedience: 
docility to the action of the Holy Spirit, which in the Meric ian Rule is free and 
immediate, now has to pass through the filter of the spiritual father. 

The comparison of the two Rules bears witness to the passage from a prophet- 
ic-charismatic vision to one of a counter-reforming type, in other words, distrust of 
interior inspirations, institutional inflexibility , stifling of the ascetical and mysti- 
cal spirit, predominance of the juridical mentality. 

Thanks also to the prestige of Cardinal Borromeo, the “corrected” Rule sup- 
planted the authentic Rule of St Angela. It was not only adopted by the Company 
of Brescia, but also gave inspiration to many other Companies, as the authors 
clearly prove with well documented support. It is known that the Company of Bre- 
scia, restored in 1866 after the Napoleonic suppression through the initiative of 
Bishop Girolamo Herbert and the two sisters, Maddalena and Elisabetta Girelli, 
adopted, while reducing and adapting it, the Borromean version of the Regola, 
which by then was thought to be the Regola of Angela Merici. 

Of interest also is the reconstruction, never before attempted, of the various 
stages of the canonical processes for the beatification and canonisation of the 
Foundress. Retracing the tortuous paths of the canonical procedures, the authors go 
through every step of the development , and produce a rich harvest of information 



about the methods and diffusion of the cult paid to Angela. They do the same with 
regard to the Bull of Paul III, Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae, of 9 June 1544. 
Their comments which accompany each stage of its iter throw light on the praxis of 
the Roman Curia when documents of this kind were promulgated. 

These are only some of the many problems, all of them worthy of considera- 
tion, which appear throughout the pages of this volume. Attention must also be 
drawn to the voluminous appendix which has been added, containing many unpub- 
lished documents. Of considerable interest is a manuscript of the Regola of An- 
gela Merici, discovered in the Biblioteca Trivulafana of Milan, which the authors 
have traced back to the early months of 1546, thus making it the oldest manuscript 
of the Regola known today. This discovery adds value to the edition of the Regola 
published by Damiano Turlino in 1569, as there is practically no divergence be- 
tween the two texts. 

Since 1968, when Teresa Ledochowska’s biography was published, nothing 
substantially new had emerged by way of research on Angela Merici and the Com- 
pany of St Ursula, but with the present work, a considerable step forward is 
taken. It is to be hoped that certain positions sustained by the authors will encour- 
age further research, and also that the new avenues of approach suggested in the 
work will be tackled by future pioneers. An in-depth study could be made, for 
example, of the spirituality of Angela Merici, which Divo Barsotti has recently 
drawn attention to in some stimulating pages. There is still room, however, for 
further studies on this, with special reference to the spiritual currents of the 15th 
century and the first half of the 16 th century. It would be good, likewise, to recon- 
struct, especially with research carried out at local level, the variegated panorama 
of Companies which sprang up in the 16th and 17th centuries, in numerous cities 
and villages of the Italian States, all laying claim to the Rule and the spirit of 
Angela Merici. 

Massimo Marcocchi 




An examination, no matter how cursory, of Merician history reveals 
at a glance the progress achieved by specialists over the last eighty years. 
From the simple narrative hagiography, which aims to edify by holding 
up for emulation the lives of holy people, advance has been made to so- 
called proper history, in the modern sense of the word, reconstructed 
with the scientific discipline of verification and documentation, such as is 
expected by any reader today, whether lay or clerical. 

Let us look, actually, at a path going from the Catholic Encyclopedia 
(1907) to the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), including also the Enciclo- 
pedia Cattolica (1948) and the various Biblioteche dei Santi (1956 and 1961), 
and not forgetting the Di^ionario biografico degli Italiam (1961), where 
under its heading of “Angela”, 1 one can clearly see the merits of a mod- 
ern and scientific methodology used in the study of St Angela’s life. 
Likewise, one can appreciate the critical reading of episodes and their 
selection which gives due weight to material which can be verified and 
documented, without in any way denying the value of the oral accounts 
and local traditions which have formed part of the oldest heritage of 
written evidence, as well as graphic reproductions and figures, even 
though these are for the most part of questionable taste. We have come a 
long way from the style of early hagiographers and their successors in 
the 17th century. This traditional style of writing history did not always 
avoid the risk of including as “historical” what was only literary elabora- 
tion or material patently edifying, or even bordering on superstition, 
understandable though this may be. 

1 There is already a striking difference between the articles on “Angela Merici” in the Catholic Ency- 
clopedia (1907) and the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967). The 1907 article gives traditional prominence 
to visions and miracles. Sixty years later we have a life which is substantially different and stripped 
of any material which cannot be documented according to modern criteria. Already in the Enciclope- 
dia Cattolica of 1948, 1, pp. 1230-1, there is an account of the Saint’s life without “hagiographical” de- 
tail, and the same can be said of the article in the Bibliotheca Sanctorum (1961), I, 1191-1195. Under 
the heading of “Angela Merici” in the Divpionario biografico degli Italiani (1961) it is worth noting that 
while room is made for the Saint’s journeys, the conversion of the young, her educational vision and 
her service to her neighbour, there is no mention of visions and miracles. 


The pages of the present volume, with their modern approach, can 
be placed within the context of this development in historical writing. 
Their purpose has not been to present a systematic biographical account 
in strict chronological order, but to make a contribution towards a bio- 
graphical reconstruction. This has been made possible through the dis- 
covery of new documents by the authors during their patient research, 
and also by less weight being given to material of doubtful origin or of a 
purely devotional nature. 

The historical framework covering the most eventful years of An- 
gela’s life is the period at Brescia, from 1516 to her death in 1540: she 
conceived and founded her Company between the years 1520-1540. 

The geographical background to this history extends from Brescia 
to Venice, and along the western bank of Lake Garda; it reaches even as 
far as the Holy Land and then from Brescia to Rome, to Varallo, to Mi- 
lan and to Cremona. But it is at Brescia that Angela spent the most fruit- 
ful years of her spiritual activity, in the very diocese where for some time 
there had been a call for a change of heart. 

To begin with, it must be remembered that during the first thirty 
years of the 16th century events had overtaken Brescia which had dramat- 
ic and disastrous effects on political and civil life, with almost immedi- 
ate repercussions on religious life. Wars, plundering and movements of 
foreign troops resulted in many deaths, aroused feelings of hatred and 
revenge, stirred up desires for power and spread a spirit of uncertainty 
and confusion. 2 

The pre-Tridentine clergy, still suffering from the plurality of bene- 
fices, sought refuge in a convenient absenteeism. Their mediocre intel- 
lectual training rendered them incapable of competing with the propaga- 
tors of the new theories which were gradually spreading, even among 
the people themselves. Their spiritual and pastoral formation, so often 
left to personal initiative, did not always receive from the hierarchy the 
stimulus or support needed to enable them to carry out their sacerdotal 
ministry in a fitting manner. Urged on by private and family interests, 
the clergy often sought to acquire numerous benefices, as was the cus- 
tom of the age, but this prevented them from being open to the urgent 
needs of the diocese. 

Preaching was often entrusted to the mendicant Orders, especially 

2 For the history of Brescia at this time, with reference to the period 1509-1516 cf. especially C. Pa- 
SERO, Francia, Spagna, Impero a Brescia... Brescia, 1958; for a more general background there is Storia 
di Brescia , II, pp. 443-6. Regarding the state of the diocese of Brescia, P. GUERRINI, Le condi^ioni religi- 
ose di Brescia intorno alia meta del '500 in L a Congrega^ione dei padri della pace , Brescia, 1933, and P. TAC- 
CHI VENTURI, La vita religiosa in Italia , in Storia della Compagnia di Gesu... Roma, 1931. A summary is 
to be found in Cairns, Domenico Bollani... Nieuwkoop, 1976, p.149 et seq. 


the Observants. Some of them, though, gained their reputation more 
through their talent as orators than through their doctrine, as was the 
case of Bernardino Ochino. 3 

It was also during this same period that Protestant ideas developed 
and spread in Italy, in the wake of Lutheranism. This often resulted in 
violent and unrestrained reaction, especially in a diocese such as Brescia, 
exposed as it was to ultramontane influences through its northern 

In regions sufficiently removed from the capital this reaction could 
even degenerate into exaggerated forms of repression, thus giving a kind 
of “official” backing to demonstrations which led to the revival of me- 
dieval superstitious practices, as in the case of the witches of Valcamo- 
nica. These painful consequences of what was really negligence on the 
part of the clergy, constituted a wound which the pastoral visit of 
Bishop Bollani and the Tridentine decrees later had to try and heal.' 1 

Thus, the sad coincidence between local superstition and the gener- 
al indifference on the part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy was bound to 
lead to a lowering of the standard of religious life in the diocese. Where 
there was a lack of any real or effective cura animarum and where the cel- 
ebration of the eucharistic sacrifice was just a “formality”, left to priests 
who were generally poorly educated, it was only to be expected that the 
search for an alternative would lead, in part, to the spread of heretical 

Before the experience of the Council of Trent was codified into De- 
crees and put into practice by a new generation of bishops, who were 
spurred on by the spirit of the Council and of its supporters in the 
dioceses, there is no doubt that one of the most striking reactions to 
the general state of decadence was the proliferation of new religious 
families. 5 

As we shall see, the most important “historical point” of this phe- 
nomenon was reached in the 1530’s, and it was precisely during this 

5 Regarding the reputation of Ochino as a preacher cf. for example, sources quoted in D. FENLON, 
Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy... Cambridge, 1972. 

4 Odorici, Storie bresciane, Brescia, i860, IX, p.130 et seq. For the pastoral visit of Bollani to Valca- 
monica cf. V. BoNOMELLl, ha Valcamonica della controriforma mile visile del Vescovo Bollani , Brescia, 
1978, and D. MONTANARl, Clero e societa negli atti della visita pastorale... and A. MASETTI ZANNIN1, 
Visita pastorale del vescovo Bollani..., both to be found in “Brixia Sacra”, 1982, 30-67; 68-78. 

5 The work to be consulted for a general outline on the subject, including the bibliography, is M. 
Marcocchi, ha Kiforma Cattolica , 2 vols., Brescia, 1967-1970. In particular cf. he congregagioni rifor- 
mate degli ordini monastici: aspetti istitusfonali e testimonian^e ascetico-mistiche and ha riforma personate: 
nuovi ordini e nuove istitugioni , 1, 63-197, 197-354. For the interpretation of the historical importance 
of the new orders, also cf. H.O. EVENETT, The New Orders in New Cambridge Modern History , II, 
275-300, and likewise. The Spirit of the Counter Reformation, Cambridge, 1968. 


period of Brescian religious life that the life and apostolate of Angela 
Merici were inserted. It was also precisely in her spirit of renewal (to- 
gether with that of like-minded people) that the Catholic Reformation 
was foreshadowed. This reform movement came into being, not so 
much as “counter-reform” in reaction to the movements taking place 
north of the Alps, but rather as ferment of a new way of life aimed at re- 
storing religious practice, with the accent being put on works of charity: 
the care of the sick, help for orphans, the fight against vice and, al- 
though less obvious but no less valid from the socio-religious point of 
view, the unobtrusive and valuable penetration of a renewed Christian 
spirit, spreading through all the different levels of society. A religious as 
well as a social movement, it would be looked upon as running parallel 
with the one on the other side of the Alps. 

In fact, the concept of the need for the “work of mercy”, itself the 
fruit of an inner inspiration which at times would take shape outside the 
official hierarchy of the Church, gave rise to a whole series of “private” 
initiatives (“private” at least at the beginning) which tried to come to 
grips with the moral, social and spiritual renewal so urgently needed in 
that society. 6 

The extraordinary “historical coincidence” of so many of these ini- 
tiatives taking place in different parts of Italy between 1530 and 1540 
would seem to point to a deep-rooted malaise in European society on 
both sides of the Alps. 

Another “historical coincidence” concerns the foundation of the 
Company of St Ursula in 1535 and that of the Company of Jesus in 1540, 
with only five years’ difference between them. Their subsequent devel- 
opment indicates clearly how extremely important the new religious in- 
stitutions were in pre-Tridentine Catholic Europe, in their attempt to 
meet the needs of the masses who were just awakening to the new con- 
ception of life introduced by the Renaissance. 7 

The connection between Angela Merici’s activity and similar en- 
terprises lay in the fact that they all responded to social needs through 
the spontaneous and “private” initiatives of people who allowed them- 
selves to be guided by the Spirit. These people discovered the fulfilment 
of their vocation either by founding charitable works or by an “aggior- 
namento” of old institutions, or even by establishing new forms, and all 
these works were just as likely to be set up outside existing ecclesiastical 
structures as within them. 

6 For example, EVENETT, New Cambridge Modern History , loc. cit. 

7 Tacchi Venturi, loc. cit. 


There are some well-known examples: Paolo Giustiniani and Pietro 
Quirini reformed the Camaldolese according to the spirit of the time, 
and as Giustiniani was a friend of Cajetan of Thiene, of Carafa and of the 
future Paul III, this initiative would have many repercussions later at the 
highest administrative level of the Church. Giustiniani and Quirini also 
tried to enlist Gaspare Contarini, who was to play such a leading role in 
the Catholic Reformation. 

As for the Capuchins, they wanted to return to their sources by put- 
ting into practice again the primitive Rule of St Francis ad lit ter am sine 
glossa. This calls to mind the example of Matteo da Bascio who, as a re- 
sult of what he had experienced during the plague-ridden years of the 
1520’s, dreamt of a radical return to all that was most authentic in the 
Franciscan spirit and of organising charitable works. 

Even if the flight of Ochino to Geneva in 1542 carried the “threat” 
of Protestantism right to the heart of Italian Catholicism, the fact re- 
mains that it was the Capuchins more than any others, apart from the 
Observants, who embodied a new ideal of evangelical practice, in 
marked contrast to the image of the moral decadence of friars and nuns 
given in classical and secular literature (from the Decamerone of Boccaccio 
to the Sei Giornate of Aretino). 

The Theatines, who were both chronologically and geographically 
close to Angela Merici, also worked for Catholic reform. They had been 
founded in 1524 by Cajetan of Thiene and Gian Pietro Carafa, who were 
guided by God’s Spirit and belonged to the fraternity of “Divino Amo- 
re”. 8 In kindred spirit with the Capuchins, the Theatines also renounced 
material goods and devoted themselves to charitable works, giving their 
services free and attending the most needy. Avoiding any official posi- 
tion within the existing welfare structures, they preached, visited hospi- 
tals, heard confessions and helped the poor and the sick, while at the 
same time giving their support to the preparations for liturgical reform. 

The Barnabites in Cremona under the leadership of Antonio Maria 
Zaccaria and the Somaschans in the region of Bergamo under Jerome 
Emiliani were geographically even nearer to Angela Merici. In both of 
them we can catch a glimpse of the “social” motive underlying their char- 
itable efforts to relieve and alleviate in some way the dire consequences 
of wars, poverty and sickness. 

The Barnabites, founded at Milan in 1530, devoted themselves at 
the beginning to pastoral activity and to the ministry. The Somaschans 

8 The anthology of MARCOCCHI gives us examples of rules and constitutions as well as other docu- 
ments of the period connected with these and other contemporary movements. For the Theatines, 
see also P. PASCHINI, S. Gaetano Thiene, G.P. Carafa e le origini..., Rome, 1926. 


came into being about 1533 in Somasca, near Bergamo, with the aim of 
carrying out pastoral action and effective charitable work (as witnessed 
by their work on behalf of orphans). They all received their formation 
during the plague years. 

Thus, round about 1535 (the year of St Angela’s original founda- 
tion at Brescia), in response to the specific needs of a society afflicted by 
so many ills, a number of “spontaneous” initiatives, both religious and 
social, were launched in different places and circumstances. Their initia- 
tors may sometimes have been in contact, but for the most part they did 
not know each other. Taken as a whole, however, their efforts were an 
effective reply to a twofold need: first, to combat the religious decadence 
resulting from an ecclesiastical structure which needed a complete over- 
haul, and secondly, to restore the general confidence which had been 
sapped by so much political and social upheaval. 

Angela Merici carried out her courageous foundation in 1535 when 
she was already more than sixty years old, and almost twenty of these 
had been spent in the social and religious setting of Brescia. A year later 
her Rule was approved by the ordinary. It might be useful to record 
some of the events of these two historic years. 

The Capuchins had their way of life codified in the Constitutions of 
1535-1536, and the first mention of the “new” Capuchins appeared in a 
pontifical document of 1535. During their first elections, which took 
place in the same year, Bernardino d’Asti was made leader of the Order. 

The Barnabites, who had already received approbation in a Brief 
from Clement VII in 1533, had this confirmed by Paul III in 1535. The 
Theatines likewise were confirmed by Paul III in 1536, after having been 
approved by Clement VII in 1533. 

It is within this historical framework, the period between the foun- 
dation of similar structures and their approval, that the events covering 
Angela’s new foundation at Brescia took place. We must look now at the 
Brescian “background” and compare Angela with other contemporary 
figures, that is from a kind of “latitudinal” aspect; and at the same time, 
from the “longitudinal” aspect, her initiative and Rule must be set 
against the “Tridentine” structures of the time of Charles Borromeo. 

Within the general context of the history of women, Angela is cer- 
tainly not an isolated figure. During this period, in fact, there were a 
number of women who tried to find some kind of adequate solution to 
the needs of society. Some of them founded institutions or initiated en- 
terprises which were not altogether unlike Angela’s own life and work. 
It is well-nigh impossible, though, to confirm whether there was any 
mutual contact or influence between them, as the historical evidence of 
any such contacts is flimsy and practically non-existent. It is known, for 


example, that Stefana Quinzani (1457-1530) and Osanna Andreasi (1449- 
1505) lived during this same period of Brescian religious history, as well 
as Laura Mignani (1480-1525), who was on friendly terms with some dis- 
tinguished members of the “Divino Amore”. They, too, tried to respond 
to what was so clearly lacking in society. 

These women were outstanding for their keen sense of social re- 
sponsibility, for their piety, and their burning zeal for religious and mor- 
al reform. At the same time, other women, such as Veronica Gambara 
(1485-1550), Vittoria Colonna (1490-1547), Gaspara Stampa (1523-1554) 
and Giulia Gonzaga (1513-1566) were distinguishing themselves by their 
civic and secular gifts. And both groups were equally praised. Indeed, 
Ariosto, in his own literary style, had just paid homage to the civic quali- 
ties and “feminine” determination of these lay-women in the heroines 
portrayed in his Orlando Furioso (apparently another “historical coinci- 
dence” of the 1530’s). 9 Similarly, the religious and social virtues of some 
of the eminent women belonging to the Catholic society of this period 
were extolled in a contemporary distinctive style, namely that of the elab- 
orate hagiographical and literary writings of 16th-17th century authors. 
Only too often, though, the simple and unvarnished historical evidence 
collected from eye-witnesses was submerged beneath a welter of marvels 
and wonders, of visions and miracles, of high flown eloquence and ex- 
hortation. This kind of literary glorification aimed at raising these fig- 
ures above earthly reality, often deemed too modest, and placing them 
on a religious pedestal, vaguely Petrarchan in style, just as popular litera- 
ture of the period had so often portrayed medieval saints lifted up from 
the earth and transfigured in divine ecstasy. 

In the case of Angela, although there are only a few contacts which 
can be verified, they highlight her great reserve. She went to venerate 
the tomb of Osanna Andreasi and we know (or think we know) that she 
visited Stefana Quinzani when the latter was ill, but historical evidence 
does not support any further deduction. In an age when letter-writing 
was the most common form of communication, Angela does not seem 
to have corresponded with any of the leading women in the region of 
Brescia; certainly, up to now, no correspondence between her and any 
notable contemporaries has come to light. 

Thus, it has not been possible to establish with any certainty a link, 
even a simple acquaintance, between Angela Merici and the other “pri- 

9 I have in mind here the early editions of Orlando Furioso (1516-1532). For the role of women in 
contemporary literature and writings, see for example, AA.VV., Images de la femme dans la litterature 
italienne de la Renaissance, Paris, (Centre de recherches sur la Renaissance), VIII, 1980, and the volume 
of M. ZANCAN, Nel cerchio della luna: figure di donna in alcuni testi del XVI secolo , Venice, 1983. 


vate” reformers of the 1530’s, who later would become the pillars of the 
Tridentine Catholic Reformation. This in no way diminishes her stature. 
On the contrary, her personality acquires greater depth and the essen- 
tially “private” nature of her enterprise stands out all the more, precisely 
because of the courage she displayed in proposing such a new way of 
life. In her activity on behalf of young girls and unmarried women the 
Foundress enlisted the help, in a very concrete way, of some widows be- 
longing to the Brescian nobility and ruling class (as has been proved by 
certain documents of private law discovered by the authors). But the 
Company was only really established on 25 November, 1535, with the 
first official admission of a group of virgins. 10 

Let us now examine what I have called the “longitudinal” aspect; 
in other words, let us look at the original plan of the Company as it 
appeared in 1535, with regard to the changes introduced or approved by 
Charles Borromeo after the Council of Trent. 

Thanks to the testimony of Gabriele Cozzano, Angela’s secretary- 
chancellor, it is easy enough to reconstruct the main outlines of her plan, 
as he laid great stress on the originality of her foundation. In an age 
when women were looked down upon, especially those who were with- 
out the protection of a husband or a convent grille, the members of the 
Company of St Ursula undertook to live out their consecration to God 
while remaining in the midst of society, thereby exposing themselves to 
all the risks, (including the not inconsiderable economic ones), inherent 
in such an anomalous situation. Such a “rule of life” was bound to lead 
to a certain emancipation of women, and it was this which made Ange- 
la’s idea so “revolutionary”. 

The Rule of Angela Merici did not place the Company under the 
protection of the bishop, but in 1582 Charles Borromeo, at the time of 
his apostolic visit to Brescia, referring to the Council of Trent, bestowed 
the title of “father, pastor and superior” of the Company on the bishop, 
although the duties were vaguely defined and were delegated to one of 
his ecclesiastical vicars. 

Angela had obviously asked of her daughters obedience to the dif- 
ferent levels of authority, arranged in hierarchical order (the Church, the 
bishop, the spiritual father, the superiors of the Company, the legitimate 
superiors of the house, civil laws and authority); furthermore, in her 
own inner freedom, she did not hesitate also to demand obedience above 
all to the Holy Spirit. It is true that she stressed that it was only if one 
worked unceasingly at inner purity that the Spirit’s voice could be fully 

10 I refer to Pt.II, Ch.IlI infra. 


understood; nevertheless, it was always a question of listening directly to 
the Holy Spirit, on whose guidance one would rely for action. 

This freedom of spirit seemed daring and much too risky to Cardi- 
nal Borromeo, and so it was moderated, restricted and submitted to the 
judgment of the spiritual father. 11 

A comparison of these two attitudes reveals, in a nutshell, the com- 
plex history of the Catholic Reformation in its two principal stages. 
Firstly, there is the birth of a work whose spiritual and mystical roots 
originate in the charisma and saintly personality of the Foundress, and 
which grows from below, as it were, without being organised or encour- 
aged by the hierarchy. Then the ecclesiastical authority intervenes to 
take over or to have a hand in the structures of the institution, some- 
times even modifying its exterior shape. 

This type of evolution, imposed from outside, which is what 
happened in the case of Angela Merici’s foundation, is typical of the in- 
fluence exercised by the Council of Trent. 

The situation when the Company of St Ursula began reflects the gen- 
eral religious atmosphere of the 1530’s. Numerous initiatives undertaken 
during this decade had certain characteristics in common: mysticism, 
saintliness, a religious respect for the human person (meaning here 
women), an initial independence vis-a-vis ecclesiastical authority (al- 
though accepting and recognising its role). The Tridentine and Borro- 
mean period which followed, however, wanted to bring everything 
under the control of episcopal authority and jurisdiction, in line with the 
directives regarding the duties of a bishop laid down by the Council 
of Trent. 

Thus, after the Council of Trent, hierarchical structures tended to 
prevail over the free expression of charismatic action. “Liberated” 
women (in the Renaissance sense of the word) would find themselves 
once again under increasing “control” and “protected” by more and 
more restrictions and rules. This provided greater security, so it could be 
said; it gave better safeguard to the charism itself and responded more 
adequately to the needs of the age, when the closing stages of the cen- 
tury were witnessing the decline of Renaissance humanism. Certainly less 
emphasis was given then to the sanctity of the Foundress and to the 
mystical aspect of Angela Merici’s foundation, in so far as it was the fruit 

11 St Angela’s text says: “And above all, obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit 
unceasingly sends into our hearts. We shall distinguish his voice more clearly in the measure in 
which our conscience is purified and spotless”. Rule-. Chapter on Obedience. In the 1582 Rule, in the 
same chapter we read: “In addition to this (the hierarchy of authorities indicated above), to the 
interior inspirations, which through the judgment and approval bf the spiritual father they will 
know to have come from the Holy Spirit”. 


of miraculous experience and, according to tradition, of God’s direct 

All this must be compared also with parallel developments in 16th 
century religious history and even with secular history. Such men as 
Borromeo in Milan and Bollani in Brescia had to muster all their ener- 
gies in the fight against the pre-Tridentine power of the Canons. 12 Tax- 
exemption and non-dependency on ecclesiastical structures caused nu- 
merous difficulties during the period of diocesan reform, as for example, 
Gambara’s opposition to Bollani when the latter was bishop. 13 

It is interesting to note that St Angela had foreseen future changes 
and developments in the history of the Company of St Ursula, and had 
herself made allowance for structural changes. 14 But it is clear that she 
had not envisaged the full scale of the changes which would follow the 
Council of Trent and eventually give rise to the Order of St Ursula in 
the 17th century. 

The Company started as a secular institution, which by claiming for 
voluntary celibacy the dignity of a recognised way of life, helped to 
promote the role of women. They found themselves committed to re- 
forming their own social milieu, by the mere fact of their presence and 
the witness of their consecrated life. But already by the time of Borro- 
meo, the Company at Brescia had become less secular and had even 
adopted a uniform religious dress. In France it would later be trans- 
formed into a religious Order, with enclosure and solemn vows (the form 
in which it would spread throughout the world), without giving up, 
however, direct apostolic work in society. 

Thus, some of the somewhat “revolutionary” aspects of the original 
foundation would be codified, regularised, “normalised” (and therefore, 
let it be said, to a certain extent “deformed”) by the logic and demands 
of a papacy undergoing renewal, by a reinvigorated episcopacy and by 
the new hierarchical organisation of the post-Tridentine Church. 

In spite of all this, as Evenett has noted, Angela’s brilliant inspira- 
tion which took shape as an institution of “private” origin, free from 
hierarchical jurisdiction and with structures sufficiently “flexible” so that 
it could work freely in society, would later bequeath a legacy of consid- 
erable benefit to the Church and to society itself. 15 

12 Cf. the comparison in Cairns, op. oil., pp. 166-170. 

,J Cf. Evenett, NCMH, op. cit., p.290. 

14 In the last Legacy of her Testament Angela had dictated: “And if, according to times and needs, 
new rules should be made or any change introduced, do it prudently and with good advice.’’ 

15 For the various stages of the Catholic Reformation cf. the very perceptive article by I. CHRVELLI, 
Storiografia e problemi intorno alia vita religiosa e spiritual a Venecia nulla prima rneta del ’500, in Stud i Ve- 


The last context, but certainly not the least, in which Angela’s life 
and foundation must be considered is that of religious ideas. With eyes 
still fixed on Brescia, there is perhaps another link (or coincidence) 
which deserves careful attention. The most decisive historical moment 
for the Ursulines was precisely 1535, the year when Angela founded the 
Company, when her charismatic intuition, with all its social implications, 
became for the first time an “institution”. This “moment” coincided 
exactly with the last period, in the religious field, of any freedom of 
thought, of any exchange of ideas, of any “experimental” works. In 
other words, this was the period just before the Catholic Reformation 
entered its militant stage, beginning in 1542, when Carafa became head 
of the Holy Inquisition. Erasmus died in the year following 1535. 

In 1531 two distinguished Brescians (one of them was Chancellor of 
the city) had written to the great Dutch humanist about their intention 
to publish in Italian his Enchiridion . Xb This translation by Emili appeared 
in the same year and was so successful that a second edition came out 
in 1540. 

Now calling to mind the aspect which was perhaps the most inno- 
vative of Angela’s conception for that period (a life of consecration with 
its ideal of presence and service in society , and not in a monastery), it is 
interesting to note that one of Erasmus’ most provocative ideas is to be 
found in Enchiridion , namely monachatus non est pietas , which was an attack 
against the formalism into which exterior practices in religious life had 
sometimes deteriorated. This phrase would cause quite a stir in religious 
and cultural circles in later years. 17 

nepiani, VIII, 1966. I discuss the role of Venice in the Catholic Reformation, from the Sack of Rome 
to the Council of Trent, in my work Domenico Bollani... op. cit. In my Pietro Aretino..., Florence, 1985, 
I have given some views about the importance of Erasmus’ influence in Italy, but special reference 
should be made to the forth-coming study of S. Seidel-Menchi. Erasmus died in 1536. 

16 For this episode see P. GUERRINI, Due amici bresciani di Erasmo da Rotterdam: E.Emilii, V.Maggi in 
“Archivio Storico Lombardo”, 1923, 172-180, and also Le carte Emig/i della Bib/ioteca Queriniana di 
Brescia , in “Rivista araldica”, 1922. 

17 The text of Erasmus says: “Monasticism is not piety, but a way of living, either useful or useless 
in proportion to one’s moral and physical disposition. For my part, I neither urge you into it nor 
dissuade you from it. This only I suggest: that you define holiness not by what you eat, by ritual, or 
by any visible object, but by these priniciples we have been discussing. In whatever things you find 
the true likeness of Christ, join yourself to these things.” Erasmus, Enchiridion Mi/itis Christiani , 
translated by Himelick, Indiana, 1963, pp. 198-9. 

However, one cannot pass over in silence the whole vast movement of reform which originated 
from below and reached so many different monasteries from the 15th century onwards. This move- 
ment flourished especially among the Congregations of Observants and was particularly effective in 
the territories belonging to the Republic of Venice cf. Mario Fois, L '“Osservan^a” come espressione 
della "Ecclesia semper renovanda", in Problem's di Storia della Chiesa nei secoli XV-XV11, Edizioni Deho- 
niane, Napoli, 1979, pp. 13-107; Mario Fois, I movimenti religiosi dell’Osservan^a net ’400: i benedettini , in 
R iforma della Chiesa, Cultura e spiritualita net Quattrocento veneto, Atti del convegno per il VI centenario 


There is no document to prove the existence during these years of 
any kind of link between St Angela and the Erasmian circle at Brescia 
(the Emilii and Maggi families), but one thing must be noted, if only 
from the historical point of view. It was precisely during these years 
which interest us most, that Brescia became one of the most fertile cen- 
tres for the spread of Erasmus’ ideas (including those against enclosure). 
Nor must the fact be underestimated that it was during this decade 
(1531-1540) that the Company of St Ursula was founded and, both in the 
way it came into being and in its development, it formed an integral part 
of the early stages of the Catholic Reformation, when women were 
actively engaged in working at personal reform and at improving so- 
ciety, and this from within society itself. 

One further point must be added to underline the link referred to 
above (tenuous though it may be and of historical interest only); it is cu- 
rious to note that Vincenzo Maggi, who had been involved with Emilii 
in the Erasmian publication at Brescia, 18 wrote one of those innumerable 
treatises on the role of women in society. This was published in 1545, 19 
almost as if he still had in mind a fresh image of St Angela, together with 
that of all the women who had helped her during her lifetime and all 
those who had been comforted, instructed and given spiritual guidance 
by her in such a tormented society. 

Christopher Cairns 

della nascita di Ludovico Barbo (1382-1443), Padova, Venezia, Treviso 19-24 September 1982, Ce- 
sena, Badia di S. Maria del Monte, 1984, pp. 225-262. 

18 Cf. GUERRINI, Due amici bresciani..., op. ci/., pp. 175-8. 

19 VINCENZO MAGGI, Brieve trattato dell' Eccellentia delle donne ..., Brescia, Damiano de Turlini, 1545. 
With reference to this work cf. C. Fahy in GSLI, 138, 1961, who at the same time, corrects some 
of the errors in Guerrini’s work. 


Part I 


Chapter I 


Anyone wanting to write a history of Angela Merici and the origins 
of the foundation of her Company of St Ursula in 1535 is faced with 
numerous difficulties when it comes to finding source material. First, the 
incursion of armies throughout the Italian Peninsula, then the suppres- 
sion of religious associations by Napoleon, together with the two world 
wars of the 20th century - all this led to the dispersal of documentary and 
bibliographical material which would have been invaluable to the histo- 
riographer today. It must also be added that in many places existing 
documents are still being re-classified. 

Our research, therefore, was arduous but nevertheless fruitful, 
because it allowed us to discover some extremely important documents, 
up to now completely unknown. 

In this first chapter we will confine ourselves to presenting the doc- 
umentary material which has provided the basis of the contribution we 
intend giving. For the first time, a major part of these documents has 
been explored from a Merician viewpoint and this has given us a whole 
wealth of hitherto unknown details about Angela Merici as a person, her 
social milieu and her institution. 

The archive and bibliographical references have been grouped to- 
gether according to their subject-interest, and are accompanied by notes 
giving the reasons for our selection and our method of approach. 

In the following chapter we will deal with Merician historiography, 
reducing it also to some basic lines. 


A native of Desenzano on her father’s side, because he had settled a 
short time earlier along the banks of Lake Garda, and of Salo on her 
mother’s side, then a resident in Brescia both through obedience and 
adoption, Angela Merici belongs to the region called “Venetian Lom- 
bardy”. It was precisely at Desenzano and at Salo that we discovered in- 



formation about Angela’s family, while Brescia provided us with useful 
documentary evidence about the story of her foundation. Official docu- 
ments will bear witness later to the cult that these three towns rendered 
her even before the Church beatified her. 

a) Desenzano 

With regard to Angela’s family in the second half of the 15th cen- 
tury, the Archivio Antico Comunale of Desenzano (AACD) is certainly 
the richest source of all for evidence, some of which has never been ex- 
plored up to now. 

The material was rediscovered in March 1982, in premises belong- 
ing to Palazzo Todeschini at Desenzano, as indicated in a draft inventory 
which we were able to consult. It is in an excellent state of preservation 
and is still in the process of being re-classified. 

Some of the registers covering the period which is of particular 
interest to us are lost today, but in certain cases these gaps can be partly 
compensated for by registers of different series. 

We gained a better knowledge of the Merici family from the useful 
information we found in the following registers which we examined: 

- Libra I di tutte le Parti, Ordeni e Provvisioni del sp. Comune di Desenzano, 
dell’ anno 1464 principiato. Manuscript on paper, leather-bound, consisting 
of 300 folios r-v. Cat.reg.n.32. It is a sufficiently detailed repertory of 
the decisions taken by the Municipal Council from 1464 onwards. The 
contents of the various meetings are listed according to subjects, with 
cross-references to different Libri delle Provvisioni (that is, the recorded 
minutes of the council meetings). The different headings of this kind of 
index follow no order at all. Mention is found here of Giovanni Merici’s 
being “accepted into the Commune” (in other words, the citizenship of 
Desenzano was conferred on him). 

- Libro delle Rasse.' Manuscript on paper, bound in skin, consisting of 
380 folios r-v which follow in correct order from ff. 1-199, but then go 

1 We were not able to find the origin of the word “rasse”. There is the word “raza” meaning: frode, 
tristizia, inganno, astuzia, ribalderia, (fraud, villainy, deception, cunning, wickedness). Cf. Giovan 
Battista Melchiori, Vocabolario Bresciano-Ualiano con appendice e rettificas^ioni, Brescia, Dalla Tip. 
Franzoni e Socio, 1817: Anastatic reprint Brescia, 1972. We have kept the word as it was originally 
written. To check the accuracy of our transcription of the “rasse” and also to complete it, we turned 
to Prof. Alfio Rosario Natale of Milan University and former director of the State Archives in Mi- 
lan, and to Mgr Antonio Masetti Zannini, Episcopal Archivist of Brescia and Episcopal Delegate 
for Ecclesiastical Archives. For the interpretation of certain words in the local dialect we were 
helped by Sig. Giuseppe Tosi of Desenzano, who also prepared the draft inventory of the 
AACD which we consulted. 


back to 100 instead of 200. Cat.reg.n.40. It is the register of accusations 
and charges brought against the citizens of Desenzano, from January 
1488 to August 1492. It lists the infringements, intentional or otherwise, 
of the standards of public behaviour set down by the Statutes of the 
Commune, together with the charges brought by the rural wardens of 
the peace regarding damages caused to private or public property. We 
know that the person was brought to trial when the fine imposed was in- 
dicated in the margin. 2 

This register is of great interest as it gives us a glimpse of everyday 
life in the country. Unfortunately, the registers immediately following 
are lost, thus making it difficult to provide a fuller reconstruction of 
some of the events which closely affected the domestic life of the Merici 
family, such as one catches sight of from this existing register. 

The systematic recording of “rasse” in a special Libro begins in 
1488. Before this they were all jumbled up with council decisions, vari- 
ous elections and other public administrative acts in the Libri Provisio- 
num; we consulted and found useful the following: 

— Liber Provisionum D, cat.reg.n.4 today. Manuscript on paper, leather- 
bound, with 404 folios, it covers the period 1468-1472. It contains charg- 
es and accusations against citizens, records of auctions, lists of candidates 
elected to special functions, minutes of municipal council-meetings and 
of the general public “Vicinia”. 3 A certain Carolus Merici appears here. 

— Liber Provisionum E, cat.reg.n.5 today. Manuscript on paper, leather- 
bound, with 308 folios. It covers the period from 1 October 1476 to 25 
July 1479. The contents are similar to those of the preceding. For the 
first time there is mention of Giovanni Merici and his wife. 

— Liber Provisionum F, cat.reg.n.6 today. Manuscript on paper, leather- 
bound, with 251 folios (with recent pagination). It goes from November 
1475 to July 1486, but also contains some “rasse” and some minutes for 
the meetings held during 1474. It has a composite structure and includes, 
inter alia, a separate section recording the army-expenses from Novem- 
ber 1477 to April 1482. 

— Liber Provisionum G, cat.reg.n.7 today. Manuscript on paper, leather- 
bound, with 273 folios. It covers the period from December 1481 to 31 
March 1484. Contents as above, but with no army-expenses. 

— Liber Provisionum H, cat.reg.n.8 today. Manuscript on paper, leather- 

2 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.I, 2.d. 

5 “Vicinia” cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.I, 2.c. 


bound, with 373 folios. The period covered is from January 1484 to 21 
December 1487, with contents as above. 

Unfortunately, the Liber Provisionum formerly indicated by the let- 
ter T is missing, and this was the one which listed the granting of citi- 
zenship (of Desenzano) to Giovanni Merici, as can be inferred from the 
Libro I di tutte le Parti... mentioned above. 

- Partitario 1°, cat.reg.n.45. Manuscript on paper, bound in skin, with 
310 folio pages. It goes from 1501 to 1509. It contains the entry of some 
of the accounts, with debit and credit, which the citizens held vis-a-vis 
the Commune, arising from reciprocal duties and obligations. The head- 
ings for some of these go beyond 1509. The account of a Zuan de Me- 
rigo is to be found here. 

- Partitario 2°, cat.reg.n.46. Manuscript on paper, bound in skin, with 
308 folio pages. It covers the period 1507-1543. The contents are similar 
to those above. The record of Zuan de Merigo’s account, which includes 
that of his son, continues here. 

- Libro d’Estimo of 1523, today cat.reg.n.56. It is on paper, with 66 fo- 
lios, in a hard-back cover. It contains the declarations of land-ownership 
for that particular year. At present, this land-register seems to be the 
only existing Libro d’Estimo for the whole of the 16th century. We discov- 
ered here, in two lines, the declaration about Angela’s property. 

The documentation listed so far gave us a picture, although only in 
broad outlines, of how the Merici family at Desenzano was composed, 
and enabled us to reconstruct in some degree its economic situation. 
The possible discovery in the future of other patrimonial declarations 
would help to add further details to the outline picture we have been 
able to provide. 

We give a list below of other official registers. They contain items 
of information referring to the cult which the townsfolk had rendered 
Angela. They formed the subject of decisions taken by the Municipal 
Council, as will be shown especially in Pt.III. Ch.IV, which deals with 
the processes of beatification and canonisation of Angela Merici. 

- Liber Ordinamentorum, 1599-1615, was formerly referred to by the let- 
ter ‘Q’ but is catalogued today as Qa, reg.n.12. It is a manuscript on pa- 
per, leather-bound and comprises 200 folios. It covers the period 19 De- 
cember 1599 to 22 March 1615. It contains the recorded minutes of the 
general meetings held by the Municipal Council of Desenzano during 
this period. It is the only one surviving from the registers described in 
the Atti del Processo of beatification and canonisation. 


These Atti del Processo, 4 in the minutes of the examination of wit- 
nesses in 1758, refer to the “Libris publicis pertinentibus ad spectabilem 
Communitatem huius oppidi Decentiani, qui asservantur in armario po- 
sito in Aula Concilii eiusdem Communitatis”. This is followed by a list 
of four registers from which brief extracts were taken of some of the 
decisions relating to the cult of “beata Angela”. 

These Atti 5 quote the following : “librum in folio optime compac- 
tum, constantem ex foliis cartulatis tercentum octuaginta septem, coo- 
pertum corio coloris sub rubri, foris inscriptum littera P, qui quidem li- 
ber est ordinationum captarum a Concilio generali spect. Communitatis 
huius terrae atque exorditur ab anno 1577, desinitque in annum 1599”. 
(This book is lost today). 

“Item alium librum pariter in folio rite compactum e constantem in 
foliis cartulatis tercentum, coopertum pariter eodem corio, foris inscrip- 
tum littera Q, qui est ordinationum ab anno 1599 usque ad annum 1615 
captarum ab eodem Concilio Generali”. (This is the actual register n.12 
referred to above). 

“Tertium librum itidem in folio, rite compactum, constantem ex 
foliis cartulatis tercentum, coopertum pariter corio, foris inscriptum li- 
tera R, qui est ordinationum ab anno 1615 usque ad annum 1626”. (This 
book is lost today). 

“Quartum denique librum pariter in folio rite itidem compactum 
constantem ex foliis cartulatis biscentum nonaginta octo, coopertum eo- 
dem tegumento, inscriptum foris litera X, qui continet ordinationes cap- 
tas ab anno 1655 usque ad annum 1665 a prefato Concilio generali eius- 
dem spectabilis Communitatis”. (This book is lost today). 

When the work of reorganisation is finished at the AACD, it may 
be possible to identify other documents whose existence is not known 
today or which are believed to have been lost. 

b) Said 

Merician tradition has always been unanimous in linking Angela 
Merici with the “Biancosis” of Salo on her mother’s side. Moreover, An- 
gela, after becoming an orphan, spent some years of her youth at Salo, 

4 The letters APC. Vat. or Atti del Processo refer to the handwritten volumes kept in the Vatican Se- 
cret Archives under the section: S.Rit.C. Processus no. 339-344. Brixien. Beatificationis et Canonical ionis 
Angelae Mericiae. They contain only the Acts of Process at diocesan level. The General Archives of 
the Ursulines of the Roman Union (Archivum Generale Ursulinarum Unionis Romanae AGUUR) 
possess an authenticated copy in 8 volumes, classified AGUUR, B.l-8. 

* APC. Vat. vol.340, f.406v. 


during the last decade of the 15th century. Hence the importance, there- 
fore, of an eventual exploration of the Archivio Antico Comunale of 
Salo (AACS). Even though we had to limit ourselves to a brief search, 
we managed to discover a piece of information concerning the civil 
status of the family which led to a correction of the family name tradition- 
ally given to Angela’s mother, a surname which was adopted only lat- 
er. 6 This new element opens up a whole new path. Whoever wants to 
carry on the search at a deeper level will probably find information in 
this archive-material which, to our knowledge, has never been tapped or 
even read before from a Merician viewpoint. An inventory-list simply 
indicates the registers and files, all of which are in good condition. We 
would draw attention especially to the following: 

- Liber Ordinamentorum n.8 (register n.18 on the inventory-list). Manu- 
script on paper, bound in skin, but the folios are unnumbered. It is the 
register of Provvisioni, in other words, of the decisions taken by the council 
between 1500 and 1516. The name often occurs here of “ser Blanchosius 
de Blanchis”, who was, in all probability, the maternal uncle of Angela. 

- Extimus MDXXI1II (register n.200 on the inventory-list). Manu- 
script on paper, with an ancient cardboard cover, 31.5 x 21.5cm, it com- 
prises 147 folios which have been recently but not completely numbered 
(ff.1-93). It contains the declarations concerning landed property from 
all those listed as tax-payers at Salo in 1524. We discovered here the 
entry for the property of “ser Bartholomeus quondam ser Blanchosii de 
Blanchis”, Angela’s first cousin. This document, thanks to the informa- 
tion it gives about civil status, enabled us to identify the family name of 
Angela’s mother. 

- Catastico del Estimo Generate del anno 1578 (register n.201 on the inven- 
tory-list). Manuscript on paper, with an ancient cardboard cover, 30.5 x 
21.5cm, it contains 179 folios with original numbering (ff. 1-175). The 
declarations from the heirs of ser Bartolomeo Biancosi are to be found 

Many gaps remain regarding Angela’s stay at Salq. The few details 
we have on the subject are based on the testimony left by Giacomo Tri- 
besco. Canon of the Lateran, towards the end of the 16th century. We 
found this testimony among the manuscript documents in the Biblioteca 
Queriniana of Brescia. We publish it as D25. 

6 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.I, 2.b. 



From 1516 onwards, Angela spent the rest of her life at Brescia. She 
left there, it seems, only for pious reasons (pilgrimages) or for safety’s 
sake (the stay at Cremona when there was the threat of danger from the 
imperial troops). Bellintani has also referred to her occasional visits to 
Salo. At Brescia, Angela immersed herself in the life of the city, as is 
proved by the contacts she had with the young women whom she would 
gather together into the Company of St Ursula, and also with the ladies 
of noble family to whom she would hand over the government of this 
Company in certain areas. At the same time she slipped quietly into the 
renewal movement which preceded the Council of Trent. Thus, we must 
now look at the question: In what form and in what setting did her 
activity take place? 

Hence the need for a systematic search through all the important 
documents which have been collected at Brescia, notably at the Archivio 
di Stato and the Biblioteca Queriniana. Other searches which we carried 
out at the Archivio Vescovile and at the Archivio dei Filippini a® Brescia 
also yielded results, and we will refer to the documents we consulted 
there as our study proceeds. 

The Brescian material covers a very extensive area. Largely on ac- 
count of this and because it provides such a variety of information, we 
felt it would be better to treat the subject according to the different cen- 
tres of interest and not to the places of origin. The reasons for the selec- 
tion of material will become clearer as we go along. 

Putting aside the documentary material relating to the historical 
events in which the Venetian Lombardy area in general, and the city of 
Brescia in particular, were involved, we aimed at focussing attention on 
three definite areas: the immediate circle round Angela, from the bio- 
graphical point of view; the wider Merician circle, from the religious 
point of view; and the charitable works carried out in Brescia, in case 
Angela or her closest women-helpers should have taken some part in 

We thought it advisable to leave to a later section of this chapter the 
archive-source material bearing more directly on Angela and the Com- 
pany of St Ursula which she founded. 

a) Angela Merici’s circle 

The Merician historiographers have retained a few names, either 
those which were incorporated into written biographies from an oral tra- 
dition or those which appeared in documents of indisputable value, such 


as executed deeds and evidence given under oath. For the most part, 
though, it was just a question of names and not of real people. But to- 
day, these names have taken on flesh and blood. They have emerged 
from the vague mass of lists and come on to the Merician scene, each 
with a well-defined identity. The Biblioteca Queriniana and its Archivio 
Storico Civico (ASC) were our richest source of information in bringing 
these names to life again. The following manuscripts deserve mention: 

- Police d’Estimo in or dine cronologico e in or dine alfabetico dall’anno 1517 dl- 
l' anno 1687. 1 This consists of 422 large cardboard folders divided into two 
sets, containing the individual sheets of declarations about property, 
from 1517 to 1687. They have been compiled according to a fixed plan: 
the head of the family first gives the names of the people under his 
charge (a kind of household statement), then comes the list of any prop- 
erty held in Brescia or outside the town, together with the declaration of 
any credits and debts. These declarations have been made at fairly regu- 
lar intervals. We confined our study to those which were returned dur- 
ing the period which was of special interest to us, namely when the dates 
fixed for their return fell in 1517, 1534, 1548, 1565 or 1568, given a year 
or two here or there. 

These sets of returns offer very useful clues when it comes to recon- 
structing the composition of households, their economic situation, busi- 
ness relationships and the identity of debtors and creditors. They also 
give some very precise references to the toponymy of that time because 
the location of landed property is given, as well as to its onomatology. 
Quite an interesting statistical survey could be drawn up from this 

By going through these statements one by one, it is also possible to 
trace the evolution of family names. Surnames took time to become fixed 
and only took on a definitive form after dialectal inflexions or anything 
of a temporary nature had gradually been dropped. This precariousness 
in the formulation of family names, or the introduction into their se- 
quence of names of a particular patronymic which, later on, was adopted 
to represent a special branch of the family, can make it very difficult at 
times to identify this or that surname. 

The statements recur at fixed times, and thanks to the declaration 
they contain about the state of the family, they also show, especially in 
certain milieux, that only approximate ages are given. One has only to 
study the “polizza d’estimo” of Antonio Romano 7 8 to appreciate both the 

7 This will be indicated simply by PE. 

8 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.IIl, c. 


valuable contribution these documents can make in throwing new light 
on civilian life, and their limitations. 

— Lihri Provisionum Civitatis Brixiae, for the period 1520-1540. These 
are registers on paper, in ancient binding, each folio numbered. Their 
ASC catalogue numbers are from 528 to 538. They contain the recorded 
minutes of the municipal council-meetings, and furnish information on 
the many facets of town life which came under discussion. Repeated lists 
of the members of the town council or of candidates for carrying out 
various public offices have made it easier to identify certain people. 

- Registro di molte cose seguite, scritte da D. Pandolfo Nassino, nob. di 
Brescia. 9 This is a manuscript on paper and is autographed. It has a re- 
cent parchment binding. It consists of 984 pages with recent pagination, 
alongside with the original folio-numbering. It measures 31.5 x 21.5cm. 
and is catalogued as ms. C. 1. 15. at the BQ. This old manuscript contains 
a rich miscellany of episodes relating to life in Brescia, set down in no 
order at all, but with the vividness, the fidelity and the good conscience 
of an eye-witness who is both perceptive and attentive to detail. How- 
ever, this witness lacks the breadth of vision and the documentary sup- 
port so necessary to ensure a certain objectivity. The items of news in his 
chronicle are commented on by personal remarks which are often very 
caustic, in a language influenced by the current Brescian and Venetian 
dialects. This journal is of local and of no special cultural interest, but it 
does contain a number of valuable transcriptions: some ancient Roman 
and Christian inscriptions and also some pertaining to the Venetian Gov- 
ernment. In addition to the uncompleted obituary notice of Angela 
Merici, it contains other information which we made use of from time 
to time. 

b) The religious situation 

It is probably difficult to understand the foundation of the Com- 
pany of St Ursula, with all its repercussions on ecclesiastical circles in 
Brescia, without some knowledge of the social and religious situation at 
the beginning of the 16th century. However, we do not have to give spe- 
cific attention to this subject, as it has already been dealt with by Prof. 
Cairns. 10 Our task here is to point out the archive-material which provid- 

9 Pandolfo Nassino, born in 1486, died after 1544. For a more detailed account of the manuscript, 
cf. Andrea Valentini, Di Pandolfo Nassino, della sua Cronaca e di alcune lettere storiche in essa contenute , 
in “Archivio Veneto” (Serie II), Vol.30, Pt.I, 1885. The extract in the BQ is classified SB.D.V.7ml9. 

10 Cf. supra, Introduction. 


ed us with biographical detail of significant interest, both for the life of 
Angela and also for that of some of her early followers. 

However, in the Biblioteca Queriniana we also examined works al- 
ready well-known. 

- Floriano Canali, Hortulus Brixianae Sanctitatis; Collectore Venerab. 
D. Floriano Canali Brixiano Canonico Regular! S. Salvatoris in Monasterio S. 
Jobannis de forts Brixiae. Manuscript on paper, with a recent parchment 
binding, measuring 28.5 x 19.5cm, catalogued ms. C. VI. 28 in the BQ. 
This is not Canali’s original work but only a copy, beautifully written, 
which Bernardino Faino arranged to be done," as is vouched for by a 
note signed by Faino himself, which is attached to the last page (f.316) 
and could escape notice: “Hunc librum pro maiori parte fideli calamo ab 
originalibus exscripsit dominus Michelangelus de Ponte publicus scriba 
Brixiae, expensis et voluntate mei Bernardini Fayni presb. brixiani, 
quibus multa manu mea adijeci, ne tanta ad decorem Ecclesiae brixianae 
monimenta perirent, aut tempora consumarent”. 

Carlo Doneda 12 was still able to see the original in 1768. He de- 
scribes it as “a miscellany of writings about Brescian Saints and Beatae 
collected by Fr Don Floriano Canale, Canon Regular of the Congrega- 
tion of S. Salvadore, the fruit of much labour, which he left in his 
Presbytery Library of San Giovanni at Brescia. It is entitled: Collectiones 
miscellaneae factae per adm. R.P.D.Florianum Canalem Brix. Can. Reg. Cong. 
S. Salvatoris Ordinis S. Augustini. In Monasterio S. Joannis Evangelistae de foris 
Brixiae” A Following information given by Cecylja Lubienska 14 we 
asked for a search to be made for the original copy of this “Miscellanea” 
in the National-Bibliotek in Vienna where it should be found. The manu- 
script section, however, is still being reorganised, and so it was not possi- 
ble for us to track down this codex. Thus we do not know how faithful 
Faino’s copy was to Canali’s original work. 

Canali’s work is important to us as the Hortulus contains the testi- 
mony, vouched for in writing in 1591, by Don Giacomo Tribesco, Canon 
of St Afra, of what he remembered of his conversations with Angela 
Merici. Doneda had still been able to read this testimony on sheet 331 of 
the Collectiones Miscellaneae and had inserted a long extract from it in the 
Vita della B. Angela A 

11 re Bernardino Faino, cf. infra, Pt.I, Ch.II, l.f. 

12 re Carlo Doneda, cf. infra, Pt.I, Ch.II, 2. a. 

13 Carlo Doneda, Vita delta B. Angela Merici da Desen^ano Fonda/rice della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola, 
in Brescia, 1768. Dalle stampe di Giambattista Bossini. Cf. pp.9-10. 

14 Marja Cecylja Lubienska zsu Dr. Fil., Sni(/a Aniela Merici i jej D^ielo. I. Ojcy^na Swi^lej Anieli 
i jej zycie, Krakow, 1935, pp.XXIV-XXV, n.l. 

15 Cf. supra, note 13. Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.130-131, note 14. 


The text which has been copied in the Hortulus bears the title: Gionta 
alle cose sopradette circa le meravigliose et divine virtu operate dalla Beata Seraf- 
fica Angela , and is to be found on f.243r-v. 

— Di vari Santi Bresciani, manuscript on paper, with cardboard covers, 
21 x 16cm, consisting of 44 folios. On the fly-leaf there is the title: “In- 
dice delle cose contenute in questo libro estratte fedelmente da un libro 
ms. del Monasterio di S. Giovanni Evangelista di Brescia”. It is cata- 
logued D.VII.20. 

This manuscript contains some biographies which must have been 
copied after 1591, as there is a reference to this date in it. It includes the 
following which are of interest to us: the “Vita e morte della B. Suor 
Angela” (ff.1-7), in other words the Vita written by Giovanni Battista 
Nazari; the obituary notice drawn up by Pandolfo Nassino (f.7v); the 
“Justificationi” by Nazari (ff.8-15v) and the testimony of Tribesco 
(ff,15v-16r). 16 

There are, however, some graphic and linguistic variants in Nazari’s 
writings in the manuscript when they are compared with the text which 
is preserved in the Acts of Process for Angela’s canonisation, 17 and 
which is an authenticated copy of the original. They must have been cop- 
ied, therefore, into ms. D.VII.20 from a text which was already corrupt, 
or slight alterations were made to bring the original terms into line with 
the spoken language. 

It is the same for Nassino’s page; it does not correspond with the 
handwritten original, which is easily legible in the Queriniana at Brescia, 
but tallies with Canali’s copy in his Hortulus. 

Tribesco’s testimony, on the other hand, when compared with the 
copy in the Hortulus and with Doneda’s extract from the Collectiones, is 
clearly dependent on the latter. 

Tribesco’s document as given in the text of ms. D.VII.20 was pub- 
lished by Giuditta Bertolotti in 1923. 18 We publish it in our turn from 
the same manuscript. 19 

- Bernardino Faino, Brescia Beata, nella quale si leggono cento e trenta Hite de 
piit scielti Servi e Serve di Dio, di Beata e Veneranda Memoria: rilevati con 
questa Compositione alia perpetuita, per consolatione spirituale della Patria dalli 
molto Reverendi Signori Don Bernardino Faino prete bresciano, et Padre Benia- 

16 re the Vita and the justification i of Nazari, cf. infra, Pt.I, Ch.II, l.b. We publish these as documents 

17 and 16 (D17 and D16). For the obituary notice of Pandolfo Nassino, cf. supra, 2. a; infra, D7. 

17 re the Atti del Processo, cf. infra, 3.d. 

18 GIUDITTA Bertolotti, Storia di S. Angela Merici Vergine Bresciana, Brescia, 1923, p.236. 

19 D25. 


mino Zacchi di S.T. Lettore Agostiniano dell’ Os servanda di Lombardia, Bre- 
scia, Queriniana. ms.E.I. 2,3,4,5,6. 

This manuscript work is in five volumes. Vols. 4,5,6 are in an old 
cardboard binding; vols. 2 and 3 have been bound recently in parch- 
ment. These last two are in a beautiful handwriting, quite likely by Faino 
himself, but the others are more like a rough copy as they are scattered 
with corrections. The work is dedicated “Alla Cesarea Maesta dellTmpe- 
ratrice Margarita d’ Austria”. 20 

The life of Angela Merici and those of some of her spiritual daugh- 
ters are to be found in the “Cento e trenta Vite”. A number of other con- 
temporary figures are also presented, and this helps sometimes to fill out 
in greater detail the kind of world in which Angela found herself living. 
From the scientific point of view, it is true that these “lives” can often 
raise many questions: absence of dates, no clear references to epoch- 
making events, and general vagueness about the sources used in each 
biography. On the other hand, they do sometimes yield a whole wealth 
of interesting biographical details, even if their aim is clearly to edify. 

— Bernardino Faino, Miscellanea', manuscript on paper, with an ancient 
cardboard binding, 30.4 x 21.5cm, and with recent pagination; cata- 
logued ms.K.VI.l. at the Queriniana. 

In his role of deputy and then of superior of the Company of St Ur- 
sula, Faino must have felt that he had a special responsibility in making 
the Foundress known to others. So in preparation for a Vita, which he 
would later publish, he collected together any biographical details that 
he could find on the subject and searched among the documents kept in 
the Archives of the Company. He had been in contact with some Ursu- 
lines, certainly with those at Mons (in Belgium) and at Roermond (in the 
Netherlands), when they appealed to him for information about Angela 
and her institution. 

These Miscellanea of Faino contain, in particular, the Processo fulmi- 
nato for the execution of the Bull of Paul III (ff.85-92v); 21 a letter on the 
life of Angela signed by “Lucrezia Fisogni madre della Compagnia” 
(ff.93-101); the “Descrittione dell’oratorio, nel quale la Beata Madre 
Angela diede principio alia sua Compagnia di S. Orsola” (ff. [ 102- 104r] , 
originally 35-37); the description of the discipline and hair-shirt used by 
Angela, without any title, on f. [ 1 lOr-v] ; the “Note varie per la biografia 
di S. Angela Merici. Si risponde alii ponti proposti nelle lettere” 
(ff.[146r-150v), originally ff.9r-18v); the “Rescritto alle lettere dell’ 

20 BQ, ms.E.I.5. 

21 Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.I. 


mons. Giovanni Blitterswik consegliero di Sua Maesta Catholica nel 
Consiglio Sovrano del Ducato di Gheldica, et della ven. madre Agnese 
della Nativita, superiora delle Orsoline novamente introdotte in Rure- 
monda citta della Fiandra” (f. [156r-v]); “Si risponde alii ponti proposti 
nelle lettere” (ff.[157r-165r]). 

These pages were already known, even though they had never been 
published. They were followed by transcripts of memoirs: “Copiate le se- 
guenti Memorie dal Registro Rosso della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola 
(f. 166r-v); a short extract from the Dichiara^ione della Holla by Gabriele 
Cozzano (ff. [ 1 67 - 1 68] ) and one from the Epistola Confortatoria by the 
same author (f.[168r-v]). Faino would make use of both the “Note varie” 
and the “Descrittione dell’oratorio” for his own Vita which he would 
publish in Bologna in 1672. 

We will be making further references to Faino’s writings as we go 
along. Certainly we will be careful not to overestimate him; indeed the 
reader is advised to exercise caution, as Faino lacks a certain critical 
sense. Nevertheless, he must be given credit for the tremendous effort he 
put into collecting together and passing on some very useful points of 
information. His good will and enthusiasm, unfortunately, were not suf- 
ficiently backed by the sketchy historical and literary learning he ac- 
quired late in life. 

His vast output, with its varied comments, its short biographical 
notes and its transcriptions from many different sources, bears witness to 
a lively attention to the most varied aspects of ecclesiastical life as it re- 
ally was at Brescia. To reconstruct them, Faino made good use of both 
oral tradition and written documents, but his work needs constant 

c) Institutes of good works 

We cannot ignore the urban social background of Brescia if we 
want to place Angela in a concrete setting or be able to perceive the 
possible resonances and consonances between her thinking and the rich- 
est trends of the reforming movements which were going on in the heart 
of society there. Now one of their most dynamic components was the 
work of the charitable and welfare institutes, and so we made a special 
study of the “luoghi pii” 22 to see whether we could find any trace of An- 

22 This was the name given to the welfare institutes which had usually been initiated by the Church 
and were largely maintained at public expense through legacies and gifts: hospitals, orphanages, “res- 
cue” houses for fallen women, and special houses to care for young girls left alone or in moral dan- 
ger. We have been able to give archive-references about the registers of these “luoghi pii” through 
the kind services of Dr Mariella Annibale Marchina of the State Archives of Brescia. 


gela’s direct involvement in them, or just simply of her presence, as well 
as of any relationship, obvious or hinted at, with the “Divino Amore” 

We will only point out here the documents of major interest, which 
can be found in the State Archives of Brescia, but they are still being re- 
arranged and classified. For the most part this documentary material be- 
longs to the “Deposito dell’Ospedale”. 

- Ospitale Maggiore: Bolle in pergamena, files AA-BB. These contain the 
original Bulls and Briefs granting various privileges to this hospital, 
which in the beginning was known as “Ospedale Grande”. They cover 
the years 1507-1633. 

- Ospitale Maggiore: Instrumenti , in parchment, files C,D,E. These files 
contain various acts relating to rents, donations and legacies bequeathed 
to this “luogo pio”. File C covers the years 1460-1473; file D, 1474-1690; 
file E, 1544-1713. 

- Liber Provisionum Hospitalis Magni Brixiae anno 1510 usque ad annum... 
Ospedale Maggiore Libro delle Provvisioni n.9. This consists of 288 fo- 
lios with old numbering. Of interest to us is the information we discov- 
ered here about the juridical links existing between the Major Hospital 
and the Hospital for Incurables, and also the decisions taken by the 
Council of the Major Hospital regarding the financial contributions to be 
paid to the “luogo pio” for Incurables, (n.l of the inventory: Giuseppe 
Bonelli, L’Arcbivio dell’Ospedale di Brescia, Notice e inventari, Brescia, 

- Ospedale Donne, Testamenti e Legati, File I. This covers the years 1525- 
1726. (Previously n.71 in Bonelli’s inventory). Among these various doc- 
uments, which are on separate sheets, there is the heading of one Act 
drawn up with the “luogo pio” of the Pieta, dated 9 September 1644, 
and the signing of a contract dated 29 September 1659. Both of these are 
in Bernardino Faino’s handwriting. 

- Kepertorio Testamenti dell’ Ospitale delle Donne, 1520, compito l’ anno 1861. 
This is a large paper register, with a leather cover. It was compiled by 
the archivist Angelo Quaglia, as he himself attested (n.71 in Bonelli’s in- 
ventory). We searched here for any trace of legacies bequeathed by the 
noble lady-governesses of the Company of St Ursula in favour of this 
hospital which had been founded for the Incurables, and then later con- 
verted into a women’s hospital. Our search produced no appreciable 
results, especially as the repertory only gives the surnames of the bene- 

- Libro primo delli Consigli Generali dal 1521 al 1661, classified as “Ospe- 


dale Maggiore, Ospedale Incurabili (Donne)”. On paper, parchment- 
bound, consisting of 170 folios, with old numbering (n.67 in Bonelli’s 
inventory). It is the register of minutes of the council-meetings of the 
Hospital for Incurables. It should have recorded the origin, development 
and growth of this Brescian “luogo pio”, together with its relations with 
the Major Hospital, but the minutes have not been written up contin- 
uously, so it is difficult to reconstruct the succession of the administra- 
tive acts and the nominations to different offices. 

- Fondaspone dell’Ospitale. Privilegi et altro, sin l’ anno 1629. On paper, 
bound in skin, consisting of 80 folios, with old numbering (n.66 in Bo- 
nelli’s inventory). This register gives documentary evidence about the 
land allocated to the Hospital for Incurables, with the inherent clauses; 
exemptions from duties and taxes, salt-allocations and the concession of 
the right to make collections on behalf of the hospital “SS.mae Trinitatis 
miserabilium nomine”. 

- Annali dell’Ospitale delli Incurabili di Brescia, Vol.l. From 1520-1799. On 
paper, bound in skin with 5 brass bosses; there are 336 pages, with origi- 
nal pagination (n.76 in Bonelli’s inventory). It is a repertory of the chief 
decisions taken during the sessions of the City General Council, as well 
as those of the Major Hospital and the Hospital for Incurables. It also 
contains legacies, gifts, administrative business and tax-exemptions. 

- Documenti fonda^ione Spedali Civili. Diplomatico vol.2°. This is a collec- 
tion, in a large size cardboard cover, of original parchment and paper 
documents, and of copies of official acts (n. 15 in Bonelli’s inventory). In 
section 18, “Documenti di fondazione dell’Ospitale degli Incurabili ora 
delle Donne”, there is a document, n.66, by Leo X, dated 31 December 
1520, “granting to the city of Brescia the right to establish and build a 
hospital”; and document n.69, on parchment, is the decree of 29 March 
1523, which links the Hospital for Incurables at Brescia with the one 
of S. Giacomo in Augusta at Rome. We also found here the Bull of 
Clement VII, dated 27 April 1526, which established the Confraternity 
“della Trinita e della Carita per l’Ospedale degli Incurabili”. 

- Annali della Carita, Vol.l. The frontispiece bears the title: Annali del Luogo Pio delle Convertite cioe della Carita , quali principiano dall’Anno 
1532 e continuano fino al 17... This is a paper register, bound in skin, and 
consists of 124 folios with archive-numbering. It refers to events which 
took place between 1532-1820, but it was written later, at an unspecified 

The writer of the historical section of these Annali was given the 
responsibility in the 18th century for putting the archives in order; he 
started with the “Istorietta” of this “Luogo Pio della Carita” for convert- 


ed women, but stated that he did not have any of the documents about 
its origins, which explains several of the inaccuracies. He did not know 
about the existence of Paul Ill’s Bull of 3 August 1335, addressed to the 
“Rectores hospitalis incurabilium Brixiensis” and “Laura de Gambara ac 
Helisabeth de Bargnanis 23 mulieres etiam Brixiensis”, who took in the 
converted women and orphans. 

Some other short chronicles follow, but this register is above all a 
summary of the decisions and administrative acts of the charitable insti- 
tution set up by Laura Gambara for the salvation of fallen women who 
had repented. 

- Liber, 1530-1647, or “Strumenti della Carita”. On paper, with the first 
sheet in parchment, bound in skin; there are 100 folios with archive- 
numbering. It contains signed deeds of purchases, the taking-up of long- 
term leases, and different kinds of transactions connected with the 
“Luogo Pio della Carita”. This register belongs to the “Luogo Pio della 
Carita” and not to the “Deposito dell’Ospedale”. 

- Annali delle Orfanelle della Vieta di Brescia, tomo [the word “secondo” 
has been written but crossed out by pen], primo. On paper, bound in 
skin with five brass bosses, consisting of 325 pages with original num- 
bering. It is a summary of various decisions, with some interesting refer- 
ences to disciplinary and administrative structures. It covers the period 
from 1562 to 1790. 

The documentation presented in the second section of this chapter 
in no way covers all the archive-material we consulted over the years 
leading up to this publication. We have confined ourselves to the 


Archives source-material with a specific Merician content is in some 
ways quite extensive and already widely known. These documents have, 
as a matter of fact, made only a meagre contribution to the biography of 
Angela Merici, but they have provided a richer harvest when it comes to 
depicting the Saint’s human and spiritual profile or to encouraging a re- 
reading of her message. 

Thus, with the aim of finding new material in order to reconstruct a 
more accurate and detailed historical study, as had been the case in the 

23 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.III.g. 


archives at Desenzano, Salo and Brescia, we extended our search to the 
following: Brescia: Archivio Diocesano, Archivio del Rev. mo Capitolo 
della Cattedrale; Milan: Archivio Storico Diocesano, Archivio di Stato, 
Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Biblioteca Trivulziana; Venice: Archivio del Se- 
minario Patriarcale; Bergamo: Biblioteca Civica; Vatican City: Archivio 
Segreto Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana; London: British Mu- 
seum; Paris: (thanks to the research carried out by Marie-Paule Bejot 
osu) Bibliotheque Nationale, Bibliotheque Mazarine. Special attention, of 
course, was given to the Archives belonging to the Generalate House of 
the Ursulines of the Roman Union at Rome. We will go into more detail 
about some of this research in this chapter. As before, we will group to- 
gether the different documents according to definite themes, correspond- 
ing with the periods and events in the story of Angela and of her institu- 

a) Writings of Angela Merici 

Angela Merici did not write (it seems that she did not know how), 
but dictated her works to Gabriele Cozzano, her faithful secretary and 
chancellor of the Company. These works are three in number; usually 
they are known as “The Writings of St Angela”, but their specific titles 
are: Regola, Ricordi, Testamento. They were meant to shape the life of the 
Company of St Ursula for whom they were intended, but over the centu- 
ries they have also guided the spirituality and become the pedagogic 
main-spring of the different branches of Ursulines (in convents or con- 
gregations) spread throughout the world. 


The first in date of these writings is certainly the Regola , written for 
all the members of the Company of St Ursula. 

Up to now the search to recover, if not the original manuscript, at 
least the one approved by the diocesan authority, has proved vain. It 
would seem that all traces of it were lost during the Process of canonisa- 
tion, in other words, after 1770. During the process-interrogation, in 
fact, the priest Antonio Guelfi, “president of the Public Library”, af- 
firmed that he had seen it. 24 

It is certain that a copy of the Regola was handed over to the Sacred 
Congregation of Rites, together with Angela’s other writings and those 

24 APC. Vat. 341, f.710r. 



of Cozzano. This is known from the Summarium Additional, which we 
publish as D37. These pages, up to now unknown, will be referred to in 
Pt.III, Ch.IV. 

However, we discovered a text 25 which, in our opinion, is only a 
little later than the original one lost and which so far has not been 
known to writers of Merician history. This is the manuscript codex in 
the Biblioteca Trivulziana of Milan entitled: 

- R egula della Compagnia de Santa Orso/a. This is a paper manuscript 
with a parchment cover, 19.8 x 13.6cm. It consists of two blank folios 
plus two sections each with 8 folios, thereby making a total of 36 pages. 
The first four pages and the sixth are blank. It is catalogued: Codice 367, 
scaff.le n.82, n.2. It was originally numbered 342. Unpublished 
(cf. Dl). 

On p.[5] is the title and on pp. [7- 13 ] there is a dedication “A1 let- 
tore”. The index (“Indice delli capittoli della Regola”) is on p. 1 14] . On 
p. f 15] , (that is, on the double p.l on the right hand side, according to the 
original numbering with the number put at the top of each right hand 
page, starting with the first page), is the beginning of the text of the 
Rule. The “ex libris” on the cover carries the library coat-of-arms and 
the catalogue number. On the first blank sheet a small leaf r-v (15.7 x 
9.3cm.) is attached with some notes of explanation, written in two differ- 
ent hands. 

The Catalogo dei Codici manoscritti della Trivulziana, edited by Giulio 
Porro, 26 describes this manuscript as follows: “16th century codex, on 
paper, in quarto. The Rule of the Company set out in this manuscript is 
the one drawn up by Bl. Angela Merici and later confirmed by the Bish- 
op of Brescia on 8 August 1536 The editor shows that he is una- 
ware of the edition by Turlino because he adds: “I think the first edition 
of the Rule of the Ursulines is the one published at Brescia in 1582 by 
Pietro Maria Marchetti. There are a number of differences, though, be- 
tween this printed text and the Trivulzian codex. Therefore, I think this 
manuscript text, both with regard to its writing and style, could well be 
anterior to 1536, and so I believe that this Rule is indeed the primitive 
one, which later would undergo various modifications”. 26b,s 

25 With the help of Prof. Giovanna Colombo. 

26 Catalogo dei Codici manoscritti della Trivulziana, edited by Giulio Porro, Vice-Presidente della R. 
Deputazione di Storia Patria, Torino, fratelli Bocca Librai di S.M., 1884, pp. 371-372. 

t6bis “(; ot i lcc car taceo in 4° del Sec. XVI... La Regola della Compagnia di S. Orsola contenuta in 
questo codice e quella fatta dalla B. Angela Merici, la quale venne confermata dal Vescovo di Brescia 
agli 8 d’agosto 1536... Credo che la prima edizione fatta della Regola delle Orsoline sia quella di Bre- 
scia del 1582 presso Pietro Maria Marchetti. Ma fra il testo stampato e quello del codice trivulziano 
vi sono molte differenze. Credo percio che questo manoscritto, avuto anche riguardo alia scrittura 


This R egola is divided into a Prologue and 11 chapters, as was the 
one in force at the time of the chapter-meeting of the Company held on 
18 March 1537, when it was presented to the notary. 27 The handwritten 
Rule which was sent to Rome for the Process of canonisation and which 
is described in the Summarium Additionale , 28 already referred to, likewise 
had a Prologue and 11 chapters. 

Some textual particularities, however, lead us to think that this 
transcription could have been made between 11 December 1545 and 14 
April 1546, or at least by 21 June of this same year. 29 

Catalogued together with this Regola are two others: 

Regola generate per tutte quelle vergini della Compagnia di S. Orsola. Le 
quail si sono retirate a vivere in Congregatione . In Milano. Appresso Pacifico 
Pontio, MDLXXXV. 

Le Regole de Monasteri delle Vergini di S. Orsola della citta, et diocesi di 
Milano. Stampate di nuovo, et riconosciute. D’ordine dell’eminentissimo 
et reverendissimo Signor Cardinale Monti Arcivescovo di Milano. In 
Milano. Nella Stamperia Archiepiscopale MDCXL1II. 

The first printed edition is: 

- Regola della nova Compagnia di Santa Orsola di Brescia per la quale si vede 
come si habbiano a governar le vergini di detta Compagnia accioche vivendo chri- 
stianamente possino doppo la lor morte fruir i beni di vita eterna. In Brescia by 
Damiano Turlino, undated. It consists of 16 unnumbered folios, 21 x 
15.3cm. 30 [Rule of the new Company of St Ursula at Brescia, from which 
one can see how the virgins of this Company should conduct themselves, 
so that, living a Christian life, they can enjoy the fruits of eternal life 
after death]. This is the first edition to be printed, and at least three copies 
of it are known: at the Biblioteca Queriniana in Brescia (cat.EE.l.m.l); 
at the Biblioteca Vaticana (cat. Propaganda II1.262-int.l); and at the Brit- 
ish Museum in London (cat.4061.e.29/l). It can be dated as far back as 
1569, 31 according to the handwritten note at the bottom of the frontis- 

ed alio stile, possa essere anteriore al 1536, e per conseguenza che queste Regole siano le primitive, 
che subirono poi qualche cambiamento”. 

2/ This meeting was called to elect a legal representative for the Company. The act of election was 
copied into the APC from the authentic record of 18 March 1537. D6. 

28 D37. 

29 Cf. infra, Pt. Ill, Ch.V, 1. GUKRRINI, S. Angela , op. cit ., p.103, indicates that he knows about the 
existence of this Trivulzian codex, but he clearly could not have seen it as he makes no reference to 
its importance or its antiquity. 

30 D2. 

31 TERESA LEDOCHOWSKA, OSU. Im data esatta della prima Kegola della Compagnia di S. Orsola pubblicata 
a Brescia presso Damiano Turlino , in “Commentari dell’Ateneo di Brescia” for 1971, pp. 13 1-135. 


piece of the London copy: “Nell’anno 1569, come consta dal Libro de’ 
Conti nell’Archivio di S. Orsola di Brescia, fol.73 tergo”. 

This first edition fell into oblivion, the reasons for which will be giv- 
en later, 32 and was only rediscovered in 1932, thanks to the copy found 
by Cecylja Lubienska in the Queriniana. She published the text of it in 
the appendix to her work on St Angela, already referred to, with the 
translation opposite in Polish. 

To Teresa Ledochowska 33 must be given the credit of making the 
text of the Rule known to a wide reading public. She published it in 
1968, inserting it into the appendix to Vol.I of her work. The Italian text 
was followed by a translation in the language in which the book was 
written, the same procedure being followed with subsequent translations 
of the book into different languages. Published separately in a booklet 
with the other Writings of St Angela, it became very well known, as 
these booklets spread throughout the countries of the world. 

A copy of this Regola exists in an old manuscript codex entitled Se- 
condo Libro Generate in the State Archives of Brescia, which will be dealt 
with in section c). It can be assumed that this copy, on the whole, has its 
archetype in the edition by Damiano Turlino. 

In 1936 Paolo Guerrini also published the same Regola in his “Me- 
morie Storiche della Diocesi di Brescia”, 34 but with less critical sense. 
Suffice it to quote from his introduction: “The text of the Rule which we 
publish in this chapter is the original primitive text, in its shorter form, 
such as was approved by the Vicar-General of Brescia ...”. Guerrini does 
not indicate which of the two sources he had drawn upon, but it seems 
likely that, on the whole, he had taken it from the Secondo Libro Generate. 
Although we could perhaps forgive him for the use of the adjectives 
“primitive” and “original”, with regard to the text of the Rule, it is not 
possible to accept the phrase “in its shorter form”. As far as the Regola of 
St Angela is concerned, there exists only one form, and so the adjective 
“shorter” has no meaning. 

This same text, translated into French, was published in 1947, in the 
appendix to a work by Mother Marie de St Jean Martin, L’ Esprit de Ste 
AngeleP Thanks to the translation of this work into English, German, 

,2 Cf. infra, Pt.lII, Ch.V. 

35 Tf.rkSA LeDOCHOWSKA, Angela Merici and the Company of St Ursula according to the historical docu- 
ments , Rome-Milan, Ancora 1967, 2 vols; I. pp.265-275. 

34 Paolo Guerrini, Ua Compagnia di S. Orsola dalle origini alia soppressione napoleonica (1535-1810) in 
S. Angela Merici e la Compagnia di S. Orsola net IV Centenario della Fondasfone. Miscellanea di studi di 
S. Undset, G. Gaggia, P. Guerrini, L. Dentf.lla, Brescia, ed. Ancora, 1936, pp.90-101. 

35 Mere Marie df. St-Jean Martin osu, L'Esprit de Ste Angele Merici, Rome, Maison Generalice 
de I’U.R. des Ursulines. Stampato coi tipi della Tip. Morcelliana, Brescia 1947. Appendix 1, 
pp. 643-657. 


Dutch and Hungarian, it became widely known in the years that fol- 
lowed. In the Italian edition, the twelve chapters of the Kegola were 
printed in the original language. 

Ricordi — Testamento 

These are the other two works, both very short, dictated by Angela 
to Gabriele Cozzano. The originals no longer exist, so we have had to 
take their description from the Acts of Process of Canonisation. The 
minutes of the examination held on 18 March 1772 record: “Successive 
comparuit coram antedictis reverendissimis dominis Iudicibus delegatis 
excellens dominus Franciscus Facconus iuris utriusque doctor, et ho- 
diernus cancellarius Societatis Ursulinarum huius civitatis Brixiensis, et 
parendo literis monitorialibus sibi praesentatis, facto exhibuit, et penes 
acta dimisit... tres alios parvos libellos in 4°, eodem omnes vetusto cha- 
racter, ut apparet, conscriptos, et simili charta crassa coloris albi contec- 
tos. Porro alter ab extra inscriptus est: ‘IHS. Testamento della Madre 
Suor Angela lassato alle Matrone’. Quod opusculum incipit ‘Suor An- 
gela serva indegna di Gesu Cristo’ et desinit in haec verba ‘supplicando 
Dio chel vi benedica: in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen’. 
Alter hanc externam inscriptionem praefert: ‘Arricordi, che vanno alii 
Colonelli’. Initialia opusculi verba sunt: ‘Suor Angela indegna serva di 
Jesu Christo’; postrema vero: ‘voglio, che siate benedette: in nomine 
Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen’. Tertius intus habet huiusmodi 
titulum: ‘Epistola Confortatoria... alle vergini della Compagnia di San- 
t’Orsola composta per il suo canceglier Gabriello Cozzano’...”. 36 

The three manuscripts mentioned (the Testamento and Ricordi of An- 
gela and Cozzano’s Epistola Confortatoria ), together with some others, 
were submitted to two calligraphy experts, Vincenzo Bighelli and An- 
gelo Franchi, and each was asked “an habeat scientiam, et peritiam anti- 
quorum characterum, et an unquam iudicialiter recognoverit scripturas 
aliquas saeculis praeteritis exaratas, an sciat insuper distinguere a quo 
tempore et de quo tempore tales antiquae scripturae fuerint exaratae, an 
sint originales, et a quo, seu quibus conscriptae”. 37 

Both arrived at the conclusion that the three manuscripts had been 
written by the same hand, but with regard to the contents, Bighelli stat- 
ed explicitly that they were to be ascribed to two different authors. Bas- 
ing their conclusion on the title on the frontispiece of the Epistola , the 

,6 APC. Vat. 341, ff.867v-868r. 
” APC. Vat. 341, f.877v. 


two experts deduced that these were the originals of Gabriele Cozzano. 
And that is how they were copied down in the Atti del Processo. 

— Arricordi che vanno alii Colonelli, or as they are more generally known, 
the Ricordi [Counsels). They are to be found in the APC. Vat. 341, 
ff.946v-953r. They consist of a Prologue and 9 Counsels (cf.D4). There 
is also a copy of them in the Secondo Libro Generate, but with slight altera- 
tions and changes in the style of language. The ancient form of spelling, 
which was much closer to the Brescian tongue, has often been replaced 
by more literary forms. 

- Testamento della Madre Suor Angela, or as it is sometimes called, the 
Legati (Legacies). It is in the APC. Vat. 341, ff.953r-958v. It consists of 
a Prologue and 11 Legacies (cf.D5) . The copy which is to be found in 
the Secondo Libro Generate is appreciably different and is closer to the 
first printed edition: Testamento della Referenda Madre Suor Angela di 
Brescia, appresso gli Eredi di Damiano Turlino, Brescia, 1574. There is 
also a copy in the Biblioteca Vaticana, 38 but the text of this edition differs 
from the original, and this time not only from the point of view of lin- 
guistic style. Legacies 9,10 and 11, in fact, have each been divided into 
two, so that the work ends up with a Prologue, 13 Legacies and a con- 
clusion; but at the same time, these divisions and the way they have been 
joined together have led to a change in the original thought. 

The Ricordi and Testamento have often been incorporated in or 
added as an appendix to the Rules of the Company of St Ursula and those 
of the Order of St Ursula, but uncritically. It is only in recent times that 
a stricter approach has been adopted in the publication of the Writings 
and their translations into different languages. 

With a view to making these works accessible to a wider reading 
public and their translations easier, they were published in 1975, in fac- 
simile of the Regola published by Damiano Turlino and of the Ricordi and 
Testamento copied from the diocesan Process, with the corresponding 
translation into modern Italian on the opposite page. 39 This work of 
transposition took many years and was carried out under the authorita- 
tive direction of the late Prof. Giovanni Presa of the Catholic University 
of Milan and of Brescia, a specialist in the Brescian spoken language of 
the 16th century: S. Angela Merici, Regola Ricordi Legati. Testo antico e 
testo moderno, a cura di Luciana Mariani e di Elisa Tarolli. Introduzione 
di Ansgario Faller, Editrice Queriniana, Brescia, 1975. 

18 B. Vat. Propaganda 

39 In 1976, the publishing firm Queriniana reprinted this as n.7 in its series “Spiritualita”. 


b) Writings of Gabriele Co^ano 

Gabriele Cozzano was not only St Angela’s copyist and secretary, 
but also the chancellor and defender of the Merician conception of the 
Company of St Ursula. In situations still not sufficiently clarified and 
which sometimes became perhaps over-tense, he intervened with his writ- 
ings, hoping to put a brake on a change which concrete circumstances 
and current difficulties probably rendered inevitable. It is to this period 
of crisis that the following works can be traced; 

- Epistola Confortatoria alle Vergini della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola composta 
per il suo Canceglier Gabriello Co^ano. 40 The original of this is lost 
(cf.D22). The manuscript which was presented at the Process and recop- 
ied in the Atti del Processo carried the author’s name. Vincenzo Bighelli, 
one of the calligraphy experts called in by the ecclesiastical tribunal, in 
fact declared: “It is necessary, however, to take note that in the third 
work [Epistola] the name of Gabriele Cozzano has been added in another 
hand, still in an ancient handwriting, but different in its lettering and 
ink, and also on account of the full-stop placed before the above- 
mentioned name. This little addition, however, in no way detracts from 
the credibility so rightly deserved by these old monuments [documents], 
which have always been jealously preserved in the Archives of these 
Lady Ursulines of Brescia”. 41 

When these three manuscripts, namely the Kicordi, Testamento, Epi- 
stola Confortatoria , were submitted for examination, Bighelli, after com- 
paring them, declared: “... without any doubt ... they are more than two 
hundred years old; they are all written by the same hand although not all 
three are the work of the same author ...”. As for the handwriting, the 
expert continued: “I declare that there must be no suspicion whatsoever 
that the characteristics of all three works are not those of his [Cozzano’s] 
own authentic and original handwriting, especially if one takes into con- 
sideration, that in each of them, there is the same kind of phrasing, spel- 
ling and punctuation which belong more or less to the mid- 16th century. 
At a later date the Italian style became refined, and one no longer comes 
across, especially in the writings of educated people, those enormous 
barbarisms which formerly used to sprinkle the pages so lavishly. My 
opinion is further strengthened by the corrections made by the author 

40 APC. Vat. 341, ff.958v-969r. 

41 Ibid. ff.880v-881r. “Deesi pero notare essere stato nel terzo opuscolo il nome di Gabrielo Cozza- 
no stato aggiunto da mano diversa, ma anch’essa pero antica per la differenza del carattere, dell’in- 
chiostro, e per la finale puntazione prima del nome sudetto. Questa piccola aggiunta non toglie pero 
un menomo grado di quella fede, che meritano questi antichi monumenti, i quali intesi, che sono 
stati sempre custoditi gelosamente nell’archivio di queste signore Orsoline di Brescia”. 


himself and by the way in which he has done them. This reveals that 
these corrections were done partly during the actual writing of the work, 
and partly when the work was being checked by the writer”. 41 bis 

- Risposta contra quelli persuadono la clausura alle Vergini di Sant’Orsola. 
This is a manuscript on paper, with an ancient cardboard binding; 21 x 
16cm, consisting of 52 folios with old numbering; it bears no author’s 
name. It is catalogued ms. D. VII. 8 at the Biblioteca Queriniana. 42 (cf. 

Those in charge of the Apostolic Process could not have known 
about it, as they make no reference to it. The Process of canonisation 
held at the diocesan centre at Brescia ended on 13 February 1775, so the 
copy of any documents referring to Angela Merici had been completed 
by then. This manuscript, therefore, must have been found a little later, 
as Girolamo Lombardi refers to it in his Vita della B. Angela , published 
in 1778. He speaks of it as: “Handwritten book kept by the Filippini 
Fathers of Brescia 43 ... written when the Company had not yet received 
confirmation from the Church, but just from a Vicar, as one can read 
here (on p.19)”. 44 

Lombardi advances no theory about the name of the author, nor 
does he list the Risposta with the other two writings of Cozzano. The 
manuscript mentioned by him is no longer to be found in the Archives 
of the Filippini at Brescia. A lot of papers belonging to these Archives, 
however, were passed on to the Biblioteca Queriniana, so it is reasonable 
to ask whether the codex, catalogued ms. D. VII. 8 at the Queriniana, is 
not the same as the one Lombardi knew about. Page 19 to which he re- 
fers corresponds at any rate. On the basis of a critical examination of the 

■(lb's “nsolut arncntc... superano due secoli di antichita, e sono scritti della stessa mano, benche pero 
tutti e tre non siano dello stesso Autore...”. As for the writing, the expert continued: “pronuntio non 
doversi neppure sospettare che il carattere di tutti e tre non sia suo [del Cozzano] vero ed originale, at- 
tesa in ogniuno di essi la stessissima frase, ortografia ed interpunzione corrispondente alia meta incirca 
del secolo decimo sesto. Dopo quel tempo lo stile italiano si e ripulito, e non si leggono, massime negli 
scritti di persone dotte, quegli enormi barbarismi, de’ quali communemente erano in addietro cosperse 
le carte a larga mano. Molto piu mi assicurano nel mio giudizio le correzioni fatte dallo stesso scrittore 
in maniera la quale da a divedere averle esso eseguite parte nell’atto stesso di comporre I’opera, e parte 
nel rileggerla”. 

42 “Quelli persuadono” is an elliptical form of the relative phrase used at that time. 

4) Founded by Fr Francesco Cabrini di Alfianello under the title of “Compagnia dei Preti Secolari di S. 
Maria della Pace”, they joined up almost immediately with the “Preti dell’Oratorio” founded by St 
Philip Neri; hence their title “Filippini”. 

44 Girolamo Lombardi, Vita della B. Angela Merici tondatrice della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola , scritta da 
Girolamo Lombardi sacerdote Veronese, in Venezia, 1778. Dedicata a Sua F.ccellenza il N.U. Gio. 
Francesco Pisani Procurator di S. Marco. Cf. p. 1 13: "... Libro manoscritto, che conservasi presso i RR. 
Padri Filippini di Brescia ... scritto allorche la Compagnia non era confermata per anco dalla Chiesa, 
eccetto che da uno solo Vicario, come ivi si legge”. 


text itself, it is indeed possible to attribute its authorship to Cozzano. 

Cecylja tubienska, who rediscovered this manuscript in the 1930’s, 
also makes Gabriele Cozzano the author. 45 

The same position is taken by Teresa Ledochowska who published 
the three works in full: 46 the Risposta , by copying the manuscript in the 
Biblioteca Queriniana; the Epistola, by drawing on Guerrini’s work (who 
in his turn had relied on an apograph by Lodrini); 47 and the Dichiara- 
sfone, by going back to the signed copy by Giacomo da Ponte referred to 
in the Atti del Processo. 

- Dichtarafione della Bolla del Papa Paolo III. The original of Cozzano is 
lost. According to the description contained in the Acts of Process, the 
small handwritten note-book, which was handed over to the ecclesiasti- 
cal tribunal, had to be ascribed to “Giovanni Giacomo da Ponte, notary, 
expert in ancient handwriting, much employed at Brescia between 1660- 
1690 in copying old documents ... After studying the phrasing, spelling 
and style, however, I conclude that the aforesaid Dichiara^ione belongs to 
the period of this Gabriele Cozzano. In my opinion it is completely trust- 
worthy as I have discovered no defect in it or anything to prove the con- 
trary”. 48 This was the judgment of Vincenzo Bighelli, the expert already 
mentioned above. 

We publish the Dichiara^ione as D24, taking it from the Atti del 
Processo di Canonisgaspone . 

We will try to place Cozzano’s three works within the intricate and 
confused setting of the years which immediately followed Angela’s 

c) Books of the Company 

The Company of St Ursula at Brescia had its own books, registers 
and different documents which it guarded jealously in its own archives. 
This is attested by the Acts of Process, and also by serious authors such 
as Doneda and Lombardi. 

With their help, we have tried to list them, in the appendix note of 

45 Lubienska, Striata Aniela, op. cit., p.XXIV. 

46 Ledochowska, Angela, op. cit., II: Risposta, pp.308-335; Epistola, pp.335-348; Vicbiaravione 

47 Gukrrini, Ea Compagnia. op. cit., pp. 133-145. 

48 APC. Vat. 341, f.881r. Transcription on ff.969r-983r. “Giovanni Giacomo da Ponte nodaro, e pe- 
rito de’ caratteri antichi, molto impiegato in Brescia nel trascrivere carte antiche circa gli anni 1660 
al 1690... Dalla dicitura, ortografia e stile pero deduco doversi attribuire ai tempi del sudetto Gabrie- 
le Cozzano la Dichiara^ione predetta, ed e a mio credere degna di tutta la fede, non avendovi scoperto 
vizio alcuno, ne presunzione in contrario”. 


Pt. Ill, Ch.I, restricting ourselves to Angela’s century. These archives, 
unfortunately, suffered the common fate which befell all the other con- 
temporary archives. 

There remain only: 

- Ordine et Ceremonie che si fanno con le Vergini che vogliono entrar nella Com- 
pagnia di S. Or sola di Brescia. In Brescia per Damiano Turlino. 49 This is a 
small undated book, consisting of 8 unnumbered folios, 21 x 15.3cm. 
Only three copies of it are known: at the Biblioteca Queriniana in Bre- 
scia (EE.l.m.2); at the Biblioteca Vaticana (Propaganda.; and 
at the British Museum in London (4061.e.29/2). It is the first Ritual of 
the Company to be printed, and the printing and lay-out are identical 
with those in the Regola printed by Turlino. It could well belong to 1572, 
since mention is made of the list of charges which had definitely been 
fixed in the Company in 1572 (further reference will be made to this in 
Pt.III. Ch.III), but it could not be later, since in that same year D. Turlino 
has already been replaced by the “Heredes D.Turlini”. 50 This Ritual is an 
interesting document in helping to deepen our knowledge of Merician 
spirituality as it was understood by the Company. 

- Secondo Libro Generate della Ven. Compagnia di 3'. Or sola di Brescia, che fi- 
nisce l’ anno 1632. Brescia, Archivio di Stato, Fondo di Religione, Cartella 
“Compagnia di S. Orsola”, reg.134. It is a manuscript on paper, of in- 
folio format, bound in maroon coloured leather, and consists of 305 
numbered folios. Begun in 1572, as is proved by the decision taken on 28 
October 1572 and entered on f.l50r-v, it also provides information about 
some of the events which occurred after the date indicated in the title 
(e.g. on f,109v, the record of the ceremony of the crowning of virgins on 
20 May 1674). 

The Secondo Libro Generate was discovered about 1930 in the State 
Archives of Brescia, thanks to the persevering efforts of Mother 
Lubienska, 51 with the help of Monsignor Paolo Guerrini. 

This collection of documents concerning Angela Merici and the 
Company is the oldest we have, but the transcriptions include the usual 
variants due to copyists’ errors and, in some cases, alterations, the key to 
which we do not possess. It contains the following important docu- 
ments: the Vita of Nazari (ff. lr-6r); the Processo Na^ari (ff.6v-llr); the 

49 Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.III, l.c. 

50 Cf. Hvandrophilactus adversus Acesiam Cacodoxum . qui se falso hudoxum Philalethem facit, antapologia , 
Brixiae, apud Heredes Damiani Turlini, 1572. 

51 Lubienska, Swi(ta Anieta. op. cit., p.XVII. 


Regola followed by the Decrees connected with it (ff.llv-18v); the Rituale 
(ff.l8v-21v); the Testamento (ff.22r-25v); the Ricordi (ff.26r-29r); Paul 
Ill’s holla (ff.30v-31r); the Processo esecutoriale (ff.31v-34v); some lists of 
members with the various charges assigned to them from f.37r to f.50r, 
interspersed with blank sheets. On f.52 begins the section of the manu- 
script set aside for the record of the elections of the mothers general and 
it begins with the copy of the attested act of St Angela’s election (ff.52r- 
53v), then of Veronica Buzzi’s in 1555 (ff.54r-55r), Isabetta Prato’s in 
1572 (ff.55v-56r), Caterina Chizzola’s in 1580 (ff.56v-57r) and of the gen- 
erals who followed (ff.57v-68v). There are lists of those who took 
part in the elections, as well as of the members who joined after 1558, as 
indicated in the admission-records (ff. lOOr-llOr; 151r-183v; and ff.280r 
et seq.); also lists of the members of government and of the spiritual 
fathers and confessors. In all these lists there are gaps in the names and 
even more in the dates, especially when it was a case of writing them in 
“a posteriori”; nevertheless, they open up very interesting paths of re- 
search about the social background of the people concerned, the criteria 
used in appointments and the methods of election, the expansion of the 
institute, etc. 

One section of the in-folio had been intended for the recording of 
statutes or rules (ff.250r-272v). For one or other of these only the title 
has been given: “Qual sia l’officio del rev. do Padre generale della Com- 
pagnia”, “Qual sia l’officio della Madre generale della Compagnia”, 
“L’ufficio delle Collonelle”. These are to be found respectively on ff.250, 
252, 258, but the rest of the page has been left blank. There are also 
blank pages dividing one title from another. 

On the other hand the following are given in full: “L’ufficio delle 
Madonne deputate sopra ciascun collonello” (f.254r), “L’ufficio delle 
Maestre deputate sopra ciascun collonello, et quello che devono aricor- 
dar et insegnar alle vergini” (f.256r-v), “Modello circa il fare la congrega 
generale per tutto il governo della Compagnia di Santa Orsola” (f.270r-v), 
“Modello circa il fare le congreghe particolari di ciascun collonello” 
(f.272r-v). Judging from the number of blank folio-sheets left between 
one set of regulations and another, it looks as if subsequent additions or 
changes were expected. 

The last page (f.305v) closes with the following note: “From the 
above-mentioned date [15 March 1632] to the beginning of the year 
1634, when the new Libro Generale, which is the third one and follows 
on from the second, was started with the new government by the fathers 
general, nothing has been written, no measures or decisions recorded, 
even though they have been taken at meetings of the Government, and 
this is due to the negligence of the person who should have written them 


or had them written”. 51 bis 
d) Documents of the Church 

Under this heading we group together various official documents 
issued by the Church, at different levels of authority and with different 
aims in view. Over the centuries certain of these have sign-posted, as it 
were, important stages in the history of the Company of St Ursula. 

- [Supplied], 2 November 1532. The copy of this is in Diversa Sacrae Peni- 
tentiariae Clementis PP. VII. Anno IX. 1532, reg.n.79 in the Vatican Secret 
Archives, which was kept in the past among the papers of the Sacred 
Apostolic Penitentiary. It is in the form of a register, with unnumbered 

Under the heading “Indultum pro moniali”, dated 2 November 
1532, there is a copy of Angela’s petition to the Holy See asking to be 
dispensed from the obligation to be buried in a church served by the 
Franciscans. Nothing was known about this document up to now and 
we discovered it through the kindness of Mgr Filippo Tamburini of the 
Biblioteca Vaticana. It is published as D8. 

The original of the Indult, in other words the letter of the Sacred 
Penitentiary in reply to this petition, giving its approval, is lost. We have 
drawn the text from a note in the Vita of Lombardi, 52 and we give it 
as D9. 

— Bolla “Regimini universalis Ecclesiae”, promulgated by Paul III on 9 
June 1544. In the index of the secret Bulls of Paul III it is recorded as: 
“Pro Confraternitate Virginum sub invocatione Sanctae Ursulae Bri- 
xiensi privilegia”. 55 

The transcription of it is in the Reg. Vat. 1696 of the Vatican Secret 
Archives, ff.223r-225r [ancient numbering ff.387r-389r]. The original is 
lost today. At the time of Bernardino Faino, the Company of St Ursula 
at Brescia still kept it. 54 This is published as D18. 

The original of the Supplied for this Bull, and the copy of it in the 

5ibis “[} a | jj soprascritto [15 marzo 1632) sino al principio dell’Anno 1634, che poi col novo gover- 
no de Padri generali incomincia il novo libro Generale e Terzo, che succede a questo che e il 2°, non 
sono statte scritte Parti, ne termination! alcune, quantunque ne siano sta fatte nelle dil 
Governo: et questo e proceduto dalla negligenza di chi doveva scrivere, overo far scrivere”. 

52 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp. 132-133 n.(f). 

5i Index Divers, et Seer, a I.eone X ad Pium V 1513-1571. Archivio Segreto Vaticano, lndice 288, 
f.264r [252 r], 

54 R egola deila Compagnia delle Vergini di Sant'Orsola di Brescia. La quale puo servire anco ad altre Cit- 
ta, essendo meglio espressa, et ordinata per commodo e beneficio universale. Con la Vita della Ma- 
dre Angela Merici sua fondatrice di beata memoria, in Bologna, 1672, per Gio. Recaldini, p.[10]. 


registers cannot be found. Katterbach draws attention to the fact that the 
registers containing these petitions for the secret Bulls of Paul III “no 
longer exist”. 55 

— Bolla “Hodie a nobis ”, promulgated by Paul III also on 9 June 1544. It 
is the mandate to execute the Bull “Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae”, and 
that is why the latter is recopied here. It is listed in the index of Secret 
Bulls of Paul III as: “Pro Confraternitate Virginum sub invocatione 
Sanctae Ursulae confirmatio Institutionis eiusdem Confraternitatis et 
illius statutorum”. 56 

There is a copy of this in the Reg. Vat. 1696 of the Vatican Secret 
Archives, ff.l93r-195v [formerly 339r-341v]. The original, which used to 
belong to the Company of St Ursula at Brescia, 57 is lost today. 

This Bull is published as D19. 

— Processo esecutoriale (also known as Processo fulminato). This is the doc- 
ument which was customarily written in view of the execution of the 
Bulls. This particular one concerns the Bull “Regimini Universalis Eccle- 
siae” of Paul III and gives a complete copy of it. The original, drawn up 
by Gian Battista Trappa, has remained unknown until today. It is to be 
found in the State Archives of Brescia, Fondo Notarile, file 1770, year 
1546. The attested copy of it, which had the same value as the original, 
was handed over to Ferretti, the vicar-general, but it has disappeared. 
There is a copy of this Processo in the Secondo Libro Generate and another 
in the Miscellanea of Bernardino Faino. 58 It is the latter copy of the Pro- 
cesso fulminato which we are publishing as D20 because Faino had copied 
it from an attested copy of 1638, which also recorded the canonical inti- 
mation of the document to Ferretti. 

— Privilegia Virginum. This title refers to the official act authenticating 
the copy of the Bull of Paul III; that act was delivered by the Episcopal 
Curia of Brescia in 1570, and was valid with regard to any civil effects. 
The act, on paper, has been attested by the bishop’s chancellor, and car- 
ries the seals of Bishop Domenico Bollani and of the Commune of Bre- 
scia. It is kept in the Archivio Vescovile in Brescia, sez. Religiosi, busta 
27, fasc.2. It is published here as D21. 

— Visita Pastorale e documenti aggiunti, Brescia, anno 1580, Milano, Archivio 
Storico Diocesano, sez.X. Under this title there are 41 volumes contain- 

55 “I libri secretorum di Paolo 111 non esistono piu”. Bruno KATTERBACH, lnventario dei registri delle 
suppliche , Citta del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1932, p. 1 13, n.l. 

56 Index, op. tit., f.263v [25 lv], 

57 R egola Brescia, Bologna 1672, p.165. 

58 Secondo Libro Generate, ff.31v-34v; Faino, Miscellanea, op. tit., ff.85r-92v. 


ing not only the Acts and Decrees sent out by the apostolic visitor, but 
also a whole wealth of documentation gathered together, both before 
and during the visit, to provide him with an overall picture of the situa- 
tion in the Brescian diocese. For a number of reasons, mention is made 
here and there of questions concerning the Company of St Ursula. More 
precisely, Vol.XIII contains, in 44 handwritten pages, the chapters 
drawn up to replace the chapter in the Rule of St Angela on the govern- 
ment of the Company. This fragment of the Rule gives no indication as 
to the author or copyist, but it is signed by Cardinal Charles Borromeo. 

- Sacra Rituum Congregatione Romana seu Brixien. ... et Brixien. V. Servae 
Dei Sor. Angelae Merici Fundatricis Monialium Societatis S.tae Ursulae Beatae 
nuncupatae. Processus super fama sanctitatis et publico cultu Servae Dei 
exhibito, Authoritate Ordinaria Brixiae compilati. These are two volumes, 
manuscript on paper, with parchment covers, in the Vatican Secret 
Archives, catalogued Arch. Cong. SS. Rituum, Processus 339, 340. They 
contain the Acts of Process, carried out at diocesan level, and at Rome at 
the Ursuline Monastery in Via Vittoria, 59 with a view to the beatification 
of Angela Merici. 

- Sacra Rituum Congregatione Brixien. Canoni^ationis Beatae Angelae Merici, 
Fundatricis Societatis S. Ursulae. Processus Apostolicus super Virtutibus et mi- 
raculis in specie. These 4 volumes, manuscript on paper, with parchment 
covers, are catalogued Arch. Congr. SS. Rituum, Processus 341-344. They 
contain the apostolic process for the canonisation of Blessed Angela Me- 
rici in the dioceses of Brescia and Verona. Vol.341 is the most important 
as it contains copies of some Merician documents of the highest value, 
some of which we have already mentioned and others which will be 
referred to later. 

We draw special attention here to the act electing Angela Merici as 
“madre, ministra e tesoriera”; we publish it as D6, taking it from the Atti 
del Processo, as the compiler of these acts copied it from the authentic 

Attested copies of these two sets of Acts (this set and the one men- 
tioned above, with the exception of Vol.344), are in the General Ar- 
chives of the Ursulines of the Roman Union. They have been copied on 
paper into 8 volumes, bound in parchment, and are catalogued AGUUR, 
B.l-8. This copy, completed 4 March 1776, was carried out at the request 
and the expense of the Ursulines of the “Venerabile Monastero di Via 
Vittoria” at Rome, who had promoted, followed and been largely re- 

59 They were originally classified: “Arch. Vat. 13.140” and “ms. 246”. Cf. Pt. Ill, Ch.IV. for the 
Processes of beatification and canonisation of Angela Merici. 


sponsible for subsidising the canonical processes. When Vol.VI of the 
copy had been completed, Filippo De Amicis, notary, chancellor and ar- 
chivist of the Sacred Congregation of Rites declared: “cum quo Processu 
originali ex eadem copia per me fideliter collationata, et auscultata, et ubi 
errata fuit pariter a me opportune correcta, et emendata, in omnibus, et 
per omnia cum eodem originali concordat”. 60 

Vols. 342-343 correspond to AGUUR, B.7-8; as for the copy of 
Vol.344, either it never existed or Vol.IX has been lost. It could well 
have been seized during the period when the monastery at Rome was sup- 
pressed, 61 together with other papers from their archives which are now 
to be found, some in the Archivio di Stato della Capitale, and others in 
the Archivio Capitolino. 

These manuscript Acts of Process contain copies of the recorded 
oral and sworn depositions of witnesses, and also of different docu- 
ments, as well as of extracts from printed works or from existing man- 
uscripts. All this material was utilised as documentary source material in 
the next phase of the procedure. This takes place at Rome when the ca- 
nonical Tribunal is transferred from the diocesan level to the Roman Cu- 
ria represented by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, acting as the official 
organ of the Holy See. 

The basic stages of this whole procedure are known as “Positio- 
nes”. Two of these take place after the diocesan process concerned with 
the reputation for sanctity and the public cult; they pave the way for the 
decree of beatification. The other two, concerned with virtues and mir- 
acles, prepare the way for the decree of canonisation. These different 
stages are documented in separate booklets and printed under the direc- 
tion of the competent office of the Roman Curia, in limited numbers, for 
the use of officers and consultors of the ecclesiastical Tribunal and of 
those directly involved in the Process itself. 

A complete set of the publications belonging to each of the “Posi- 
tiones” is at present in the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris, catalogued 
H. 669-673. 62 

We will deal with these stages of the Process in Pt.III, Ch.IV of our 
study, making use also of some of the documents which are found in the 

60 AGUUR, B.6, f.1522. 

61 Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.IV, n.26. 

62 Lombardi, in his Vita, numbers the first four “Positiones” chronologically 1,11,11 1, IV. Later in 
this volume we will be referring to them in the same way. We give here the subject-matter of each: 
Positio I on the introduction of the Cause; Positio II on the cult of Angela Merici and her 
reputation of sanctity; Positio III on the validity of the Brescian process regarding the virtues and 
the miracles of Bl. Angela; Positio IV on the heroic nature of her virtues. 


Patriarchal Archives at Venice (Archivio Patriarcale di Venezia, sala 
Monico, XXa, 345/2 and 786/4). 

e) Executed deeds 

In spite of the loss and dispersal of many documents, the “Fondo 
Notarile” of the State Archives at Brescia is a rich source of interesting 

The Acts which we present here and those which we will point out 
as we go along, as well as others not indicated, have all furnished or con- 
firmed information about people and events during the twenty years fol- 
lowing Angela’s death. These documents, which have never been stud- 
ied before, 63 throw a little light on the crisis which shook the Company 
of St Ursula at that time. 

— Mandatum Societatis Sancte Ursule , on paper. It names the “procuratri- 
ces, administratrices et negotiorum gestatrices” of the Company. The 
Act was executed by the notary Gio. Maria Maffetti, on 22 February 
1545. It is catalogued ASB, Fondo Notarile, Gio. Maria Maffetti, file 
850. (cf.D27). 

— Electio pro Confraternitate Sanctae Ursulae Brixiae; on paper. Act for the 
election of officials and procurators for the Company of St Ursula, exe- 
cuted by the notary Girolamo Zanetti, on 23 November 1555. It is in 
ASB, Fondo Notarile, Girolamo Zanetti, file 1694. (cf.D28). 

— In solutum datio magnifici domini Hieronimi de Eu^ago. Confraternitati 
Sanctae Ursulae Brixiae, cum liberationibus\ on paper. Of interest for the 
names of the members of the Company which are given here. The Act 
was executed by the notary Girolamo Zanetti, on 30 November 1555. 
ASB, Fondo Notarile, Girolamo Zanetti, file 1694. 

— Procura pro Societate Sanctae Ursulae; on paper. Of interest for the list of 
people who are mentioned here and for the functions with which Ga- 
briele Cozzano is charged. Act executed by the notary Girolamo Zanetti, 
on 18 September 1556. ASB, Fondo Notarile, Girolamo Zanetti, file 
1694. (cf.D29). 

— Minutes of an enquiry relating to a charge brought against Ginevra 
Luzzago. The Act, on paper, was executed by the notary Simone Sospiri, 

63 Several of the documents belonging to this “Fondo Notarile” were discovered through the help 
of the late Prof. Camillo Boselli. To help us decipher some of them, we turned to Prof. Giovanna 
Daverio, expert in paleography, ancient documents and archives. The document dated 22 February 
1545 was transcribed by Prof. Leonardo Mazzoldi, former Inspector-General of the State Archives. 


on 31 May 1558. ASB, Fondo Notarile, Simone Sospiri, File 1127. 

— Fides pro Societate Sancte Ursule or “Processo esecutoriale” conducted 
by Fra Andrea Cattaneo dell’Ordine degli Umiliati di Crema, who was 
charged with executing the Letter of the Apostolic Legate of Venice 
against the priest Giovan Paolo dalla Corte and in favour of Ginevra 
Luzzago. It is on paper, and was executed by the notary Girolamo Za- 
netti, on 31 July 1558. ASB, Fondo Notarile, Girolamo Zanetti, file 
1694. (cf.D31). 

— Datio in solutum magnifici domini Hieronimi Fu^aghi Societati Sanctae 
Ursulae Brixiae. This is another important document, on account of the 
names that are listed. On paper, it was executed by the notary Girolamo 
Zanetti, and dated 19 November 1559. ASB, Fondo Notarile, Girolamo 
Zanetti, file 1695. (cf.D33). 

From the State Archives at Milan, the will of Ginevra Luzzago: 

— Testamentum magnificae dominae Genebriae de Fu^agis, (made public on 18 
September 1558). Copied on ff.66v-67r of a parchment register; Milano, 
Archivio di Stato, Fondo di Religione, register n.223, Brescia S. Affra 
alias S. Salvatore ( hater anensi ) . The register is listed also in the Inventario 
Registri on p.16 as n.56. (cf.D32). 



Chapter II 


Merician historiography now covers more than four centuries, dur- 
ing which time it has gone through periods of aridity and periods of in- 
tense output. A number of favourable circumstances are responsible for 
the latter, such as the rapid spread of the Company of St Ursula in Italy 
and of the Order of St Ursula in Europe during the 16th and 17th centu- 
ries; a great upsurge of interest in Angela Merici during the second half 
of the 18th century, with the convergence of evidence at Brescia and 
Rome on the occasion of the processes of beatification and canonisation 
of Angela, (which were abruptly interrupted by the French Revolution); 
the resurgence of this interest at the beginning of the 19th century, in 
conjunction with the canonisation celebrations at St Peter’s; and finally, 
in the 20th century, the birth and steady growth of a new direction in 
Merician historiography, a direction which forms part of the wider 
movement of contemporary historiographical critical study. 

In this chapter we will introduce those authors who, in our view, 
invite special interest, in that they have helped to make Angela better 
known. Intermediate works take a lead, more or less consciously, from 
their writings. 

We can gather information about these works, namely those pro- 
duced before 1760, in the Summarium Additional, already referred to, 
which was printed by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1761, that is, 
during the initial stages of the process of Angela’s beatification at the 
Roman Curia. 1 Under heading n.4 are listed all the printed works in 
which Angela is given the title of “Saint” (11 works) or “Blessed” (72 
works). This kind of literature is mainly spiritual or hagiographical (not 
to say generic); sometimes Angela is just mentioned or quoted as an 
example, and sometimes her profile is sketched with the sole aim of giv- 
ing edification and highlighting anything that is extraordinary and mi- 

1 D37. 


raculous. As these works make no contribution whatever to Merician 
historiography, we are not going to consider them. 

It is greatly to be hoped that one day a complete Merician bibliog- 
raphy will be produced, with a minimum of historical and critical intro- 
duction, and that this bibliography will cover the period from 1540 to 
our own day, including everything that has been written about Angela 
anywhere in the world. The first two worthwhile attempts are: 

- Bernarda [Ross], Schrifttum %ur Geschichte der Heiligen Mutter Angela 
und ihrer Stiftung , in “Beitrage zur Darstellung und zur Geschichte des 
Ursulinenordens”. VIII. Jahrbuch des verbandes Selbstandiger deutscher 
Ursulinenkloster. Weihnachten 1934. Herausgegeben vom Ursulinen- 
kloster in Berlin, pp. 60-89. This bibliography is the most documented 
one we have. 

— Cecylja Lubienska, Bibljografia o Switfej Anieli , in Swiqta Aniela Merici i 
jej D Z ielo, Krakow 1935, pp.XXXVII-LXVIII. 

1. 16th AND 17th CENTURIES 

The first tentative steps consisted of personal souvenirs written out of 
affection and devotion. These were followed, in the course of the 16th 
and 17th centuries, by some attempts at reconstructing a biography of 
Angela Merici. They mark the dawn, as it were, of a historiography 
which still has a lot to say today. 

a) Francesco Eandini ( 1530-1608 ) 

The first items of biographical interest about Angela Merici were 
collected and then handed down by Francesco (or Franceschino) Lan- 
ding priest of S. Maria della Pace and confessor to the Company of St 
Ursula. In 1566, when transmitting a copy of the Rule to one of Cardinal 
Borromeo’s collaborators, Father Franceschino Visdomini, he had sent a 
letter with it giving some information about the Foundress and her institu- 
tion. No trace is left of this original letter, which was dated 21 December 
1566, but an extract from it has been published and reprinted several 

— Estratto d’una lettera del P. Francesco Eandini che sta nel Monte vicino a 
Brescia, scritta al Rev. P. Frate Franceschino Visdomini dell’ordine de Minori 
adi 21 decembre 1566. As far as we know, this extract appeared for the first 
time in the Regola della Compagnia di .V. Orsola, published at Milan by Paci- 


fico Ponte in October 1569; 2 then it appeared in the Rule published by 
the Fratelli da Meda in 1570, 3 and in another Rule published by Ponte 
again in 1577. 4 Later on, the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, published in 
1582, 5 contained a Rule accompanied by the same extract; and it is to be 
found again with the Rule printed by Pacifico Ponte in 1585. 6 (cf.D15). 

Landini himself recognised the value and the limitations of the por- 
trait he gave of Angela and of his short notes about the Company of St 
Ursula. He states, indeed, that he based himself on evidence collected 
from “several women, servants of God, nearly all of whom lived at her 
time”; but then he adds: but I cannot relate everything, because it is 

not easy for me at present to go to Brescia to talk with the women who 
used to be in close contact with her”. Thus, the biographical information 
he gives is more the fruit of an oral tradition gathered together from 
trustworthy witnesses and stored in the memory, than of a specific en- 

2 R egola della Compagnia di Santa Orsola, fatta per quelle Giovani le quali desiderano servire a Dio nel 
stato verginale, stando nel secolo; e per quelle, le quali per poverta, o per altri impedimenti non pos- 
sano entrare in Monasterii. Aggiontovi i capitoli del Governo, che hanno di havere i Governatori, e 
Governatrici d’essa Compagnia. Con licenza dell’ Illustriss. et Reverendiss. Sig. Cardinal Borromeo, 
Arcivescovo di Milano. In Milano, si vendono al Segno della Stella. [Per Pacifico Ponte, nel mese 
d’Ottobre, l’anno del Signore 1569]. Cf. pp.27-32. There is a copy in the Archivio Storico Dioce- 
sano di Milano (ASDM), Sez.XIII, vol.61. 

3 Re go l a della Compagnia di Santa Orsola, fatta per quelle Giovani le quali desiderano servire a Dio nel 
stato virginale, stando nel secolo: e per quelle, le quali per poverta o per altri impedimenti non pos- 
sono entrare in Monasterii. Aggiontovi i capitoli del Governo, che hanno di havere i Governatori, e 
Governatrici d’essa Compagnia. Con licenza dell’Illustriss. et Reverendiss. Sig. Cardinal Borromeo, 
Arcivescovo di Milano. In Milano, per Valerio et Hieronimo fratelli da Meda, 1570, ff.[B6-B8v]. 
ASDM, Sez.XIII, vol.61. 

4 R egola della Compagnia di Sant' Orsola, fatta per quelle Giovani, le quali desiderano servire a Dio nel 
stato verginale, stando nel secolo; e per quelle, le quali per poverta, o per altri impedimenti non pos- 
sono entrare in Monasterii. Aggiontovi i capitoli del Governo, che hanno di havere i Governatori, e 
Governatrici d’essa Compagnia. Con licenza dell’ Illustriss. et Reverendiss. Cardinal di Santa Pras- 
sede, Arcivescovo di Milano. In Milano per Pacifico Pontio, impressore di Monsignor Illustriss. Ar- 
civescovo 1577. A copy of this is in the Biblioteca Vallicelliana di Roma, S. Borr. I-IV-186. In the 
Atti del Processo it has been incorrectly marked as “Manoscritto Vallicelliano I-IV-186”. (APC. Vat. 
341, f.863v). 

5 Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis tribus partibus distincta. Quibus concilia provincial^, conciones synoda- 
les, synodi dioecesanae, instructiones, litterae pastorales, edicta, regulae confratriarum, formulae, et 
alia denique continentur, quae CAROLUS S.R.F.. Cardinalis tit. S. Praxedis, Archiepiscopus egit. Me- 
diolani, Apud Pacificum Pontium, MDLXXXII, ff.338v-339r. Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, 

6 R egola della Compagnia delle Vergini della gloriosa Vergine e Martire S. Orsola, e delle sue Undid mille 
compagne. Fatta per quelle giovani, le quali desiderano servir a Dio nello stato verginale stando nel 
Secolo, e per quelle le quali per poverta, o per altri impedimenti non possono entrar in Monasterii. 
Con li capitoli del governo, che debbono havere i Governatori, e le Governatrici di essa Compagnia. 
E con la forma delle Cerimonie da usare quando le Vergini si velano, e quando si stabiliscono nella 
Compagnia. La qual Compagnia, e Regola non solamente e stata instituita et approbata dall’U- 
lustriss. e Reverendiss. Cardinal di S. Prassede Arcivescovo di Milano, Ma anco poi ad instantia sua, 
approbata dalla Santita di Nostro Sig. Papa Gregorio XIII, come per un breve posto nel fine appare. 
In Milano, appresso Pacifico Pontio Impressore della Corte Archiepisc. 1585. 


quiry arising from a definite situation. At the same time, though, the au- 
thor shows that he is conversant with the reasons for the foundation of 
the Company of St Ursula, as well as with the apostolic activities of its 
members. Nor does he hesitate to refer to the serious crisis which the 
Company had undergone after the death of the Foundress. In general, 
therefore, Landini is a reliable source. 

In the first section of the Positio IV of the APC printed by the Sa- 
cred Congregation of Rites, the extract published in the 1577 Rule is 
evaluated in the following terms: “omnem sibi vindicat fidem perinde 
ac si esset authographum; quandoquidem editio isthaec facta fuit iussu 
S. Caroli Borromaei, penes quern erat dictum Authographum”. 7 

b) Giovan Battista Nayari de Sayani (1533- ?) 

The first biography which was written with set purpose, and not 
just incidentally, may not reveal the recognised methods of a historian, 
but it certainly shows those of a lawyer. It is entitled: 

— Vita et morte della Rda Madre suor Angela. This “Life” is preceded by a 
letter of dedication “Alle nobili matrone le signore Bianca Porcelaga, Ve- 
ronica Butia...” (seven other names follow) “rettrici, et governatrici della 
regola di Santa Orsola di Brescia. Gio. Battista Nazzari Bresciano”. 

The Vita is followed by: 

— Le Justificationi della vita della Rda Madre suor Angela ter^ebita. The orig- 
inals of these two manuscripts are lost, but there is a copy of them in the 
Acts of Process of canonisation in the Vatican Secret Archives, 8 and 
another copy exists in the Secondo Libro Generate , 9 

Let us briefly introduce the author. In the “polizze d’estimo” for 
1568 (the same year as the justificationi) there is mention of a certain Gio- 
van Battista Nazari, 10 son of the late Giovan Faustino di Nazari called de’ 
Sayani. He is 35 years old, and married to Paola, the same age as himself. 
He has no children. The declaration that his father had made for the pre- 
ceding returns in 1548“ was clearly under the name of “Zohan Faustino 
Sayano, q. Messer Francesco di Sayani Nodari “ who had a 15 years old 
son, “Zohanbatista”. The designation “Nodari” would suggest a line of 
notaries. The author of the Vita and the justificationi is called Giovan 

7 Informatio super dubin an constet de Virtutibus Theolopalibus... etc., Romae, 1777, p.3. cf.supra, Pt.I, 
Ch.I, n.62. 

8 APC. Vat., vol.341, ff.927v-945v. 

9 On ff.1-11. 

10 PE, n.93 and n.220. 

11 PE, n.119 and n.237. 


Battista Nazari de Sayani. The addition of “de Sayani” helps to distin- 
guish him from another Giovan Battista Nazari, author of several learn- 
ed works, including: Bressa antica. Origine della citta con li suoi culti a' dei 
antichi , Brescia, presso Vincenzo Sabbio, 1562; Discorso della futura e spe- 
rata vittoria contro il Turco, Venezia, 1570; Della tramutayione metallica sogni 
tre. Primo della falsa tramutacfone sofistica. Secondo della utile tramutaafone 
detta reale usuale. Ter^o della divina detta reale filosofica. In Brescia, presso 
Ciotti, 1599. In 4°. 12 

In 1568, as is indicated on a page of the ancient Libro dei Conti be- 
longing to the Company of St Ursula, a copy of which is in the APC, 13 
Nazari de Sayani, with the permission of the bishop of Brescia, and at 
the request of the governesses of the same Company, carried out a kind 
of process-interrogation of four inhabitants of Brescia who had been 
eye-witnesses of the life of Angela Merici, and drew up a report. The 
Justificationi is, in fact, his report of their depositions. 14 

This interrogation has been copied out also in Di vari Santi Bresciani, 
the manuscript D.VII.20, cited above, from the Biblioteca Queriniana, 
with the sub-title of “Processo”. Doneda 15 generally calls it “ Processo 
Nazari”, and this is the name which has passed into the current language 
of Merician circles. 

No sooner had he finished the justificationi than Nazari started work 
on the Vita.' 6 The “Processo Nazari” had been instructed with the ap- 
proval of the ordinary of Brescia. The fact that he had given his consent 
is certainly noteworthy when one recalls the diligence and careful atten- 
tion with which Bishop Domenico Bollani governed the diocese of Bre- 
scia. 17 If he had given his approval to the project undertaken at the re- 
quest of the leading members of the Company, he must have done so on 
good grounds. 

As for the four witnesses called to give testimony, whom we will 
meet again later, they had all known Angela Merici personally. Two of 
them had given her shelter under their own roof: Antonio Romano and 
Agostino Gallo; and the other two, Bertolino Boscoli and Giacomo 

12 Leonardo Cozzando, Libreria Bresciana , in Brescia, 1694, Per Gio. Maria Rizzardi (BQ, classi- 
fied SB.B.VIII) under the heading of “Gio. Battista Nazari”, p. 1 15. 

15 APC. Vat. 341, f.946. 

14 APC. Vat. 341, ff.936v-945v. D16. 

15 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.8. 

16 APC. Vat. 341, ff.927v-936r. 

17 C. CAIRNS, Domenico Bollani Bishop of Brescia, Devotion to Church and State in the Republic of Venice in 
the Sixteenth Century, Nieuwkoop 1976; Franco Molinari, Domenico Bollani (1514-1579) vescovo di 
Brescia e Carlo Borromeo ( 1538-1584 ). Linee di ricerca sulla pastorale post-tridentina in una Chiesa locale, 
Libreria Universitaria di Vorrasi S. Via Trieste, 32, Brescia, s.a. 


Chizzola, had had dealings with her during her stay in Brescia. All four, 
officially interrogated, had had to take an oath at the beginning. Their 
depositions, which were recorded in the minutes, (in other words, the 
justification t), show that the four witnesses did not try to come to a com- 
mon agreement beforehand. 

It is clear from the reading of the text of the Vita written by Nazari 
that he is no writer, but what does come through is his honesty as a law- 
yer and his attention to detail. Don Vincenzo Bighelli, librarian of the 
Queriniana mentioned earlier and handwriting expert at the Tribunal for 
the Process of canonisation of Blessed Angela, probably confusing him 
with his namesake, considers him “a person most learned and scholarly 
for his time, especially in matters relating to his Country”. Then he adds: 
“He was a public notary by profession, and it was in this capacity that he 
undertook the charge of compiling the life of Blessed Angela. During 
1568 he examined the four witnesses already mentioned, witnesses who 
were quite beyond reproach ... I do not know who the copyist was, but 
what I do know is that the Instrument of the aforementioned examina- 
tion is authentic and valid, because at the end there is the signature in the 
hand of Nazari himself and his paraph as a notary. For this reason, I es- 
teem all these things to be true and real ...”. 18 

And Bighelli continues: “At the time of our ancestors some man- 
uscript copies of it appeared in public; I read one of them in a manu- 
script in 4° in the Libreria Queriniana, entitled Prato Spirituale della citta 
di Brescia, which in my opinion is about a century and a half old”. 19 

Since Nazari’s original has not been found up to now, we are giving 
Bighelli’s description of it, in case this may eventually help someone to 
discover it in some archive-collection or library. 

The manuscript was entitled: Libro della Reverenda et quasi Beata Ma- 
dre Suor Angela Fondatrice della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola di Brescia con le lus- 
tificationi di essa vita, et anco si contiene il voto delle vergini di detta Regola. This 
work of Nazari indeed formed a whole with the register of those virgins 

18 APC. Vat. 341, ff.883v-884r. un soggetto dotto ed erudito riguardi a’ suoi tempi, e special- 
mente dei fatti della sua Patna”. ... “Egli esercitava la professione di pubblico notaio, e quindi fu che, 
assunto l’impegno di compilare la vita della Beata Angela, dentro 1’anno 1568 esamino gli accennati 
quattro testimoni maggiori di ogni eccezzione... Chi sia stato l’amanuense, a me non consta: ben 
pero so che 1’Istromento del predetto esame e autentico e legale, perche nel fine vi e la sottoscrizione 
di mano dello stesso Nazari, e ancora il suo segno di Notaio. Per il che io le stimo tutte cose vere 
e reali...”. The Justification i of Nazari would have a determining influence during the process of 
canonisation of Angela, cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.1V, 3.b. 

19 Ibid., f.884r. "... al tempo de’ nostri avi ne uscirono in pubblico delle copie manoscritte, una delle 
quali io ho letta in un codice manoscritto in 4°, che esiste nella Libreria Queriniana intitolato Prato 
spirituale della citta di Brescia , il quale a mio parere ha circa un secolo e mezzo di eta”. We were not 
able to track down this manuscript which Bighelli saw in the Biblioteca Queriniana. 


who, between 1568 and 1600, had made a vow of virginity in public. 
The work altogether consisted of 172 folios. 20 

“Having read and examined with great pleasure the book that has 
been shown to me, I reply that this is a book to be valued highly and 
held in high esteem, and one which merits to be judged trustworthy dur- 
ing any process. In the first place, on account of the outward appearance 
of the book itself, which is of medium size, covered in red-colour skin, 
and stamped with some decorations in relief. Attached to the book are 
some silk cords which were called ‘nistole’. Secondly, on account of the 
page-edges, which have been painted in purple, and for the black leather 
case, specially made for the book and lined with strong cardboard. The 
case is stamped over with impressions of heads of angels, flowers, and 
other designs and arabesques, all dating back at least two hundred years. 

“The title is written in noble capital letters. Surrounding it is a 
rectangular border of interlacing cherubs and nobiliary coats-of-arms of 
some of the leading Brescian families, and other similar works, drawn by 
pen in a reddish-colour ink. One can also admire similar pen-drawings 
on some of the other pages. 

“There is one design, however, which I cannot pass over. This is 
the one which occupies the whole of the second page. The border, de- 
signed in the manner already described, frames an image of St Ursula, 
who is dressed in a cloak and crowned like a queen. She is standing in a 
court of magnificent ancient style and is presenting a standard bearing 
the Cross to Blessed Angela, who receives it kneeling, with an eloquent 
gesture of devotion. 

“The paper has been chosen from among the best and is white, 
smooth and strong. Every page has been lined. The lettering is large, 
elegant and, as it is called, cursive; but in some places where they fit, one 
also finds some round-hand letters, both capital and small. 

“Having reflected on the extraordinary care taken to produce and to 
preserve this manuscript, which has always been kept in the Archives of 
the Ursulines, from what I have heard, I cannot but judge this aforesaid 
manuscript to have been highly esteemed, first by the persons who were 
in charge of the Company two hundred years ago, and likewise by 
those who came afterwards, and that it is entirely trustworthy and 
creditable”. 21 

20 APC. Vat. 341, f.868v. 

21 APC. Vat. 341, ff.882r-883r: “Letto e considerato con sommo piacere il libro esibitomi, rispondo, 
essere questo un libro da fame molta stima, e tenersene gran credito, e degno di prestarglisi ogni 
fede in giudizio: primieramente per l’esterna faccia del medesimo, la quale, essendo in forma di fo- 
glio mezzano coperto di pelle rossa, spiccanvi in esso alcuni ornamenti fatti col ferro; il quale ha at- 


The first print of the Vita and the justification i is certainly the one 
included in the section of Positio I of the Apostolic Process, Summarium 
super dubio an sit signanda Commissio lntroductionis Causae , pp.2-16. There is 
a reprint in Positio IV, Summarium super dubio an const et de Virtutibus Theo- 
logalibus, pp.25-31. 

Giuditta Bertolotti published the Vita and justificationi in the vari- 
ous editions of her work, 22 taking them from the ms.D.VII.20 in the 
Queriniana, which shows some variants when compared with the APC 

Teresa Ledochowska also published the justificationi, but taking it 
from the manuscript text in the APC. Vat. 341. 23 We are doing the same 
and are publishing the Justificationi as D16 together with the Vita as 

c) Mattia Bellintani ( 1535-1611 ) 

Father Mattia Bellintani, a Capuchin from Said, wrote at least two 
different biographies of Angela Merici: one consisting of 31 chapters and 
the other of 28 points followed by documents. 

- Vita della B. Angela da Desen^ano, in 31 chapters. 

At the time of the Processes, the autographed manuscript of this 
existed, but without chapters 26-31. That it was indeed an autograph had 
been proved by the calligraphy experts, 24 by comparing the handwriting 
on this with the one on some of the documents belonging to the Cap- 

taccate certe cordelle di seta che si chiamavano nistole. Secondariamente per gli orli delle carte, quali 
sono tinti d’un color pavonazzo, e per la busta di cuoio nero formata sul suo dosso, foderata di forte 
cartone, tutta improntata a stampa di ferro di teste di cherubini e di fiori, ed altri ornati e rabeschi, 
roba tutta di ducent’anni addietro per lo meno. II suo titolo e scritto a lettere maiuscole e nobili, nel 
mezzo d’una cornice quadrangolare lavorata a penna con tinta rosseggiante, intrecciata di angioletti 
e di armi gentilizie d’alcune nobili famiglie bresciane, e di simili lavori e tratti di penna anche in altre 
pagine si ammirano. Uno pero non debbo tacere, ed e quello alia pagina 2, la quale ne resta tutta 
occupata. Ivi, contornata da una cornice travagliata sulla maniera descritta, si vede, in un cortile di 
magnifica fabrica antica, delineata I’imagine in piedi di sant’Orsola ammantata e coronata come 
regina, la quale stende uno stendardo insignito di croce alia beata Angela, che in ginocchioni lo 
prende, dimostrando in tal atto una gran divozione. La carta e stata scielta della megliore, bianca, 
liscia e forte. Ogni facciata e stata rigata; il carattere e grande, galante e, come chiamasi, corsivo, ma a 
suoi luoghi ha opportunamente ancor del rotondo, si maiuscolo che minuscolo. Avendo riflesso alia 
straordinaria diligenza per formare e conservare la perpetuita di questo codice, quale si e sempre cus- 
todito nell’Archivio delle Orsoline, come ho inteso dire, non posso a meno di giudicare che il detto 
codice, incominciando da quelle persone le quali duecento anni addietro presiedevano alia detta 
Compagnia, fosse molto stimato, come lo e stato anche dopo, e che sia degno di piena fede, e 

22 Cf. infra, 3.a. 

23 Ledochowska, Angela , op. cit., I. pp.289-300. 

24 APC. Vat. 341, ff.878v-879r. 


uchin Order, where Bellintani had been provincial, general assessor, gen- 
eral commissioner of France and Switzerland, and general visitor for 
Bohemia. A complete copy of this text, with all 31 chapters, used to be 
kept in the Biblioteca della Congregazione dei Padri della Pace or del- 
l’Oratorio, but is now in the Biblioteca Queriniana. 25 Compared with 
the autographed text, it can be seen that it is a true copy, apart from a 
few simple variants of writing. Now there is a letter from Father Francesco 
Corbello of the Oratory, a copy of which is in the APC, where he made a 
clear reference to a copy ordered by the superior general of the Company 
of St Ursula at Brescia. 26 

The Atti del Processo describe the original in these terms: 

“... quae quidem Vita conflat perexiguum quinternulum paginarum 
decern spisso minusculo, et pervetusto charactere coloris flavescentis 
scriptarum. Initialia verba huius quinternuli haec sunt: ‘La Vita della 
Beata Angela da Desenzano. Proemio. Sono in vero le vite de santi’. Fi- 
nalia vero haec alia: ‘Et iscampo dai persecutori, e dal Mar Rosso, se- 
questrato dalle genti nel deserto’. Idem quinternulus non est integer, sed 
mutilus et mancus, cum finalia eius folia deciderentur fortuito casu de- 
perdita...”. 27 

As for the manuscript copy which is now in the Queriniana, it was 
presented to the canonical process by the Prefect of the Oratorians’ Li- 
brary. It is a small exercise book, 23 x 17cm. The minutes record that the 
Librarian: “dimisit libellum manuscriptum in folio parvo coopertum 
crassa charta, vulgo carton limo coloris albi, cuius paginae numeratae vi- 
gesimam primam non excedunt, exhibentem exemplum vitae Beatae An- 
gelae Mericiae ex originali historia composita a praefato patre Bellintano 
Cappuccino, desumptum cura antedicti reverendi patris Francisci Cor- 
bello eiusdem congregationis [of the Oratory, or of Peace] presbyteri, et 
turn temporis spiritualis Magistri Societatis Sanctae Ursulae...”. 28 

Both the mutilated original and the copy of the Oratorian Fathers 
were copied out in the Atti del Processo. 29 

Father Mattia is a typical preacher of his day and one of the most 
distinguished. 30 This is shown through his language of imagery, his sol- 

25 Classified ms. B. VI. 30. 

26 APC. Vat. 341, ff.920v-921v. 

27 APC. Vat. 341, f.865v. 

28 APC. Vat. 341, f.866v. 

29 The mutilated original was copied in the APC. Vat. 340, ff.572r-594r. The complete copy was 
transcribed in the APC. Vat. 340, ff.606r-635r; and then in the APC. Vat. 341, ff.893r-920v. 

50 Monumenta Historica Ordinis Minorum Capuccinorum , vol.V, Matthias a Salo ofm Cap., Historia Ca- 
puccina. in lucem edita a P. Melchiore a Pobladura, OFM Cap., Romae, 1946. On pp.XXIII-LXXX 
there is a Conspectus chronolo&kus vitae P. Matthias Sa/odiensis which gives a year by year account of 
his life. 


emn sentences, his search after effect, and the way he labours to invest 
even the smallest happening with a spiritual interpretation. In this Vita 
he openly sets out to exhort and to eulogise, and so it could well be the 
one commissioned from him by the “madre generala della Compagnia 
delle demesse a nome di tutta la Compagnia”, as is stated in the letter 
of Father Francesco Corbello. 31 

- Vita della B. Angela fondatr ice della Compagnia delle vergini di S. Orsola, in 
28 points, published in the Monumenta Historiae Capuccinorum , 32 vol.VI, 
Historia Capuccina. It is followed by a revised version of the Regola della 
Compagnia in 12 chapters, by a short account of Angela’s Testamento and 
by an Italian translation of the Bull of Paul III. This Vita must have 
been unknown in the 18th century because there is no mention of it in 
any of the Merician literature of the period, not even in the bibliography 
of the Summarium Additionale. It is taken from the codex R, t.II, ff.35v- 
54r, which is in the General Archives of the Order of Friars Minor 
Capuchin, classified AC, 19-20. 

The style of this second Vita , stripped of the bombast which 
weighed down the previous text mentioned, moves along quickly with a 
much lighter touch. Flere Bellintani makes use of more restrained crite- 
ria. Perhaps he simply wanted to write a page of history to insert in the 
Chronica which he was preparing at that time. He had justified the inser- 
tion of this biography by the fact that Angela had belonged to the Third 
Order of St Francis, and had done so in a preface, which had been de- 
leted in the original manuscript at a later date. 

A certain Brother Giacomo da Salo had made a note in the margin 
of this manuscript: “Quid ad nos? Especially as it [the Vita ] is printed 
quasi ad litteram under a false name”. 33 The manuscript in the Queri- 
niana, ms. B. VI. 30, also bears a similar note on the back of the cover: 
“This ‘Life of Bl. Angela of Desenzano’ was the work of the reverend Fr 
Matia Capucino Belentano, and then it was arranged and shortened into 
another form, with two prefaces, by the reverend priest Octavio Gondi, 
of the Company of Jesus”. Doneda had also seen this note. 34 But we will 
speak about Gondi’s biography under the next heading. 

31 Ibid, pp.LVIIl-LIX. This letter is also reported in the APC. Vat. 340, ff.605r-606r and 341, 

32 Monumenta, op. cit., vol.VI, pp.77-113. 

53 Ibid., p.77. “Quid ad nos? Tanto piu essendo stampata quasi ad litteram sotto nome finto”. The 
“false name” he alludes to is that of Ottavio Gondi, a Jesuit from Florence. But Fra Giacomo has 
not reflected on the fact that Angela was a Franciscan tertiary; furthermore he has not distinguished 
between Bellintani and Gondi. 

” Doneda, Vita. op. cit., p. 12. “Questa ‘Vita della B. Angela da Desenzano’ fu fatta dal 
P. Matia Capucino Belentano; poi fu raccomodata, et ridutta in altra forma, con doi prefatione, dal prete Octavio Gondi, della Comp, del Giesu”. 


The writer of the “Introductio Generalis” of Vol.V of Monumenta , 
already cited, 35 also points out that: “profecto in exemplari bibliothecae 
Querinianae desunt hae duae praefationes”. This is true, because the two 
“prefaces” he refers to are not Bellintani’s but Gondi’s; Gondi’s printed 
work, in fact, is very different from Bellintani’s, consisting of two parts, 
each with its own preface. 

The same “Introductio Generalis” cites, as an alternative to the 
manuscript in the Queriniana, the “processus beatificationis et canoniza- 
tionis S. Angelae Merici, qui Romae apud Curiam Generalem Sororum 
S. Ursulae Unionis Romanae custoditur... Apographon factum est an. 
1758 et in paucis differt sive a textu cod. bibl. Querinianae sive a textu 
Historiae Capucinae” . 

With a concern for accuracy, let us recall that this manuscript in the 
AGUUR is the attested copy of the Atti del Processo, which are kept in 
the Vatican Secret Archives. Both texts faithfully reproduce the mutilat- 
ed autographed original (which is lost today) and the complete manu- 
script copied from this, which is in the Queriniana. But they do not 
reproduce the edited version in the Monumenta which, as we have noted 
above, departs considerably from the text in the Queriniana. 

Regarding the sources of information which Bellintani would have 
had at his disposal, attention must be drawn to the fact that already be- 
fore 1552 he had spent some time in Brescia, as a “maestro di lettere” in 
the house of one of the Avogadro nobility. He had returned to Brescia 
from time to time for reasons connected with study or his ministry. 36 He 
had also stayed for long periods at Salo, as his family had moved there 
when he was still a child, and he often used to carry out his priestly 
ministry there. Therefore he could well have heard about Angela, as 
memory of her was still very fresh. 

It must be added that Bellintani was more a man of prayer, govern- 
ment and action, than a man of study and learning. Thus, while there is 
no reason to doubt his honesty and moral rectitude when he is writing 
about events of which he is aware, one finds that he lacks the scientific 
discipline, the objectivity in analysing facts and the criteria of methodol- 
ogy, which, moreover, are the characteristics of a relatively new histo- 

i5 Monumenta, op. cit., vol.V, p.LX. 

,6 “Conspectus chronologicus vitae P. Matthiae Salodiensis”, in the Monumenta, op. cit., vol.V, 


d) Ottavio Gondi (1549-1606) 

Jesuit, confessor of St Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, and another 
well-known preacher, Ottavio Gondi is the author of the first printed 
biography of Angela Merici. It was published anonymously at first, then 
under the pseudonym of Ottavio Fiorentino (he was, in fact, a Florentine 
by birth). He was on good terms with Alessandro Luzzago, protector of 
the Company of St Ursula and grandson of that Ginevra Luzzago who 
had been one of the first governesses of the Company. It seems even 
likely that he wrote his work at the request of Alessandro. 37 

- Vita della Beata Angela Bresciana, prima fondatrice della Compagnia di 
S. Orsola. In Brescia, appresso Vincenzo Sabbio, 1600. 

This Vita is in the Biblioteca Queriniana at Brescia, classified 
7.D.III. 16.m.3, and also in the Mazarine at Paris, catalogued HH-71. The 
small book, in 4°, includes: “Dedication from the Editor to Mgr Ma- 
rino Giorgio, Bishop of Brescia” (pp.3-5);“Preface” (pp.7-12); “Book I” 
(pp. 13-32); “Preface” (pp. 33-38); “Book II” (pp. 39-65); “Testament of 
Blessed Angela” (this is really a very reduced summary, pp. 66-72); and a 
page with the heading: “The end” (that is, the approvals from the com- 
petent Brescian ecclesiastical authority, p.72). 

In the “Dedication of the Editor”, Vincenzo Sabbio says that he 
feels urged to publish the Vita on account of “the great spiritual help 
which it would bring, not only to the devout virgins of this Company, 
but also to others who have a taste for spiritual things”. 38 

In his turn, Pietro Maria Marchetti, who published the 1620 edition, 
will give his name to the same “Dedication”. However, this dedication 
does not reveal the intentions of the author himself, who in the two 
“Prefaces” exalts God’s action in the founders of religious families, keep- 
ing strictly to a spiritual discourse without the slightest reference to the 
method he has used in his research. Just touching on the subject, he then 
mentions the existence of attested documents lying among the manu- 
script books in the care of the mother general of the Company, but he 
does not say whether he consulted them, or how far. 

The biographical details are sparse and elementary. It is easy to see 
that this Vita depends on Bellintani’s, the one published in the Monu- 

i7 Doneda, Vita. op. cit p.17, n.(f). Lombardi, Vita. op. til., p.XI, n.(a), states: “Di fatto, nel- 
rOratorio domestico delle Orsoline di Brescia vedesi un quadro bellissimo, dove si rappresenta il 
Ven. Alessandro suddetto in piedi, che tiene in mano un libro aperto col frontespizio che dice Vita 
della beata Angela , per indicare che il Venerabile fu quegli che il primo la fece stampare con questo 

38 Gondi, Vita. op. cit., ed. 1600, p.4; ed.1620, p.3. grande aiuto spirituale apporterebbe non pur 
alle divote vergini di detta Compagnia: ma anchora all’altre, che dello spirito han qualclje gusto”. 


menta Historiae Capuccinorum. This, in fact, is noted by the editor of the 
Monumenta himself: “Maxima similitudo inter utramque deprehenditur: 
sed plures quoque adventiciae ibidem conspiciuntur dissimilitudines, 
quae vel alium fontem vel aliam eiusdem fontis compositionem exigunt. 
Existimamus hunc fontem communem esse vitam ab ipso Matthia pri- 
mitus conscriptam, quam in duobus codicibus asservatam novimus”. 39 

It is also possible that Gondi may have collected some of his infor- 
mation from the Luzzago family, as in certain details he is more 
informed than Bellintani. 

It was well-known that Bellintani was Gondi’s source. We have al- 
ready mentioned the ancient note attached to the back of Bellintani’s 
manuscript in the Queriniana. In the Biblioteca dei Frati Minori the vari- 
ous reprints of Gondi’s Vita (1600, 1605, 1618, 1619, 1620, 1638) appear 
under the heading of “Mattia da Salo”. This name, however, has been 
put in brackets, and someone has added the name of Ottavio Gondi, 
who would have drawn on the manuscript of the Capuchin Father for 
his own work. 40 

There is a certain ambiguity about the author’s name arising from 
the fact that various editions were published anonymously or under the 
pseudonym of “Ottavio Fiorentino”. Sommervogel 41 is quite certain 
that this “padre Ottavio Fiorentino” is none other than the Jesuit Otta- 
vio Gondi, but Faino and Doneda 42 had already reached the same con- 
clusion, especially Doneda after he had discovered evidence about it 
among the papers of the ordinary diocesan process carried out for the 
beatification of Ven. Alessandro Luzzago. 

Neither Sommervogel’s Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jesus nor the 
Biblioteca dei Frati Minori Cappuccini inspires sufficient confidence in the 
information it gives to reconstruct with any accuracy the bibliographical 
data of the different editions: the former consists of just a list of dates, 
and the latter gives only the opening words of the titles of some of these 
editions. Here are a few examples: 

39 Monumenta, op. cit., vol.V, pp.LIX-LX. 

40 P. Ilarino DA Milano, ofm. Capp., Biblioteca dei Frati Minori Cappuccini di Lombardia (1535- 
1900), Firenze, Leo S. Olschki, 1937, in Fontes Ambrosiani in lucem editi cura et studio Bibliothecae Am- 
brosianae Moderante Johanne Galbiati, vol.XIX, pp. 259-260. 

41 CARLOS Sommervogel, SJ. Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jesus , t.lll, Bruxelles-Paris 1892, 
col. 1558. No other literary works are attributed to Gondi. 

42 Bernardino Faino, Vita della Serva di Dio di beata memoria la Madre Angela Merici da Desen^ano 
fondatrice della celebre Compagnia delle Vergini di Sant’Orsola di Brescia, il cui Corpo riposa nella Chiesa 
di Sant’Afra. Scritta prima, e stampata dal P. Ottavio Gondio Fiorentino; poi riordinata, e corretta, 
et accresciuta dal Superiore Generale d’essa Compagnia. In Bologna, 1672. Per Gio. Recaldini; p.3. 
Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.16. 


- Vita della Beata Angela Bresciana, prima fondatrice della Compagnia di S. 
Orsola di Brescia di nuovo rivista e corretta e confirmata dal Cardinale S. 
Carlo Borromeo, Arcivescovo di Milano. Composta dal Padre Ottavio 
Fiorentino, Brescia, appresso il Marchetti, 1605. In 8°. This Vita is indi- 
cated by the Biblioteca on p.259, and by Doneda who says, however, that 
he has never seen it {Vita, p.14). There does not seem to be any trace of 
it today. 

We were not able to find the edition which, according to the brief 
reference to it in the Bibliotheque and the Biblioteca (mentioned above), 
would have been printed in Venice about 1618. 

- Vita della Beata Angela Bresciana prima fondatrice della Compagnia di San- 
t’Orsola. 11 cui Corpo e venerato nella Chiesa a basso Sant’Affra di Bre- 
scia. Composta dal molto Rever. P. Ottavio Fiorentino. In Brescia. Per 
Francesco Comincini 1619. A copy of this is in the Biblioteca Queri- 
niana, classified 5°.FI.IX.14. After the first “Preface”, the 1581 letter 
from Cardinal Borromeo to the superiors and virgins of the Company 
has been inserted. This letter will be referred to in Pt.III, Ch.V. In this 
edition the Testament is published in the version with 13 Legacies. 

At least two more editions of the Vita appeared in 1620, with the 
same title as the 1619 one. Flowever, they do not contain the letter from 
the Cardinal of Milan; the Testamento has gone back to the form it had in 
the 1600 edition; and, what is even more important, they are published 
after the Rule: 

- Regola della Compagnia di S. Orsola di Brescia gid revista, et approvata dalla 
Santa et felicissima memoria di S. Carlo... Aggiuntovi la vita della B. Angela 
Fondatrice ; co’l Sermone fatto alle Vergini Demesse, dal P.F. Paulo da Terni 
Predicatore Capuccino. II giorno di Santa Caterina 1619. In Brescia, Appresso 
Pietro Maria Marchetti, 1620. 

The Regola and the Vita each have their own frontispiece and pagi- 
nation. The Regola, which covers pp. 1-102, is followed by the Vita. The 
editor’s dedication to Mgr Marino Giorgio, bishop of Brescia, is the 
same as the one that editor Sabbio had written for the first edition, but 
this one bears the initials P.M.M. (Pietro Maria Marchetti). Then follow: 
“Preface” (pp.5-10); “Book I” (pp. 11-22); “Preface” (pp.23-26); “Book 
II” (pp. 27-42); “Sermon given to the Virgins of St Ursula. ..”(pp. 43-55). 

A copy of each of these two editions of 1620 can be found in the 
Biblioteca Queriniana: one, classified 3°. I. XIII. 17. m5, contains the same 
chronological error as in preceding editions, namely, giving the date 
of the death of Angela’s father as 1516; the second one, classified 
SB. B. VIII. 16. m3, does not repeat the error, as the sentence containing it 
has been dropped. 


So far we have found no trace of the 1638 edition which, according 
to what Girolamo Lombardi wrote in his Vita? would have been dedi- 
cated by Monti, the editor at Bologna, to Ippolita Volta Boncompagni. 

We must say the same thing about the edition which was said to 
have been printed in Bologna in 1721. Mother Luisa Schiantarelli men- 
tions this edition during the process-interrogation in 1757, when she lists 
the different editions of Gondi. The list, however, only gives approxi- 
mate dates and places of printing, 44 therefore the information given 
could be inaccurate. 

We have had to dwell a little on the fortunes of this work in Italy, 
as both here and abroad it enjoyed a wide success. 

This was the period when the first Companies of St Ursula, the first 
little groups of Congregated Ursulines and the first monasteries of the 
Order of St Ursula were flourishing in France and Flanders, before 
spreading rapidly throughout Europe, and this explains the success of 
the first publications on Angela Merici. 

At Liege in 1626 the first French biography appeared, at the' request 
of the Ursulines of that city. In spite of our search, we did not succeed in 
finding a single copy of it. Lombardi affirms that Gondi’s work “was 
also translated into the French tongue, and after all the approvals from 
the Ordinary was sent to the press in Liege in 1626, and came out dedi- 
cated to Monsignor Pier Luigi Caraffa, Apostolic Nuncio at Cologne”. 
And he adds the note: “Gelenio refers to it in his Colonia Agrippina, 
p.600, and the Superior of the Ursulines of Landshout also mentions it in 
a letter dated 18 March 1758”. 45 

This letter, still preserved in the AGUUR, is signed by Mother Ma- 
rie Genereuse and says: “... the Life of our Blessed Mother Angela, the 
oldest one printed at Liege in 1626, is in very bad French; it calls her Ste 
Ange, even though the contents of the said book deal with the life and 
foundation of Blessed Mother Angela, our foundress”. 46 

The Summarium Additionale , 47 under n.4 of the second bibliographi- 
cal list there, refers to this biography as: “Historia vitae Ven. Servae Dei 
impressa Leodii 1626. Idiomate gallico”. 

Sommervogel thinks that this Abrege de la vie de la B. Ange, premiere 

4J Lombardi, Vita. op. cit., p.XII. Donkda also (Vita. op. cit., p.15) mentions this reprint, with 
reference to t.III of the Analecta Bollandiana. 

44 A PC. Vat. 339, f.235r. 

45 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.XII and note (c). 

46 AGUUR; Bc.86. One can gather from a number of letters that the Superior’s name was Marie 
Genereuse Antonia de l’Incarnation de Jesus Christ Fraporta. 

47 D37. 



Fonda trice de la Compagnie de Ste Ursule 48 is a translation of Gondi’s Vita. 

Nor was it possible to find the Vie printed under the name of Fa- 
ther Odode Gissey (1567-1643), Jesuit, professor of moral theology and 
superior of the house at Aubenas. Mother Luisa Schiantarelli, postulatrix 
of the cause for the beatification of Angela Merici, numbers it among the 
works put at the disposaL of the examining commission which had been 
called together for the process. 49 This Vie had been published in Paris 
in 1634. 

Father de Backer, who is quoted by Sommervogel, refers to it as a 
“Traduction de l’ouvrage italien du P. Octave de Gondi sj”, which Fr de 
Gissey would have had printed himself in 1648. Fr de Gissey, however, 
had died in 1643. 50 

e) Jean-Hugues Quar re ( ?-1656 ) 

This priest, who later became a member of the Oratory in France, 
was born in Franche-Comte, a province still under Spanish rule. He was 
afterwards sent by his superiors to the Low Countries, which likewise 
were ruled over by Spain. A fervent defender of Jansenist propositions, 
he was friendly with Jansen, with Saint-Cyran and with Jacques Boonen, 
the Jansenist archbishop of Malines. When Boonen obtained for the 
Oratorians in Belgium a certain independence- vis-a-vis the Oratory in 
France, Quarre very soon became their major superior. 

In 1648 he published a biography of Angela Merici: 

— Fa vie de la Bienheureuse Mere Angele Premiere Fondatrice de la Compagnie 
de S.te Ursule. Enrichie de plusieurs remarques et pratiques de piete, tres-utiles 
pour la conduite de toutes sortes de per sonnes a la Vertu, par le R.P. Iean Hu- 
gues Quarre Prestre de la Congregation de l’Oratoire de lesus, Docteur 
en Theologie, A Paris, chez Sebastien Hure, rue sainct Iacques, au 
Coeur-Bon, 1648: pp.[34] + 582; 15 x 8.5cm; there is a copy in the Bi- 
bliotheque Royale Albert Ier at Brussels, classified 111, 82784. 

Philippe Annaert, from Louvain University, has kindly passed on to 
us his own unpublished notes on the author. In them he puts forward 
some suggestions about the possible identity of whoever had commis- 

' ,s Abrege de la vie de la B. Ange, premiere fondatrice de la Compagnie de Ste Ursule. Nouvellement traduit 
d’italien en frangois en faveur des vierges religieuses ursulines de la cite de Liege. Avec un autre ab- 
brege d’une fort substantieuse praticque de la perfection chrestienne. A Liege, Jean Tournay, 1626, 
12°, pp.144 et 236 sans la dedicace et la table. Sommervogel, t.Ill, col. 1558. 

49 Odon De Gissey, Histoire de Ste Ursule, ensemble !a Vie de la B. Angele..., a Paris, 1634, in LOM- 
BARDI, Vita, op. cit., p.360. Cf. also Sommervogel, Bibliotheque, op. cit., t.III, col. 1468. 

50 Sommervogel, Ibid., col. 1468-1469. 


sioned the work. One must not be led astray by the fact that the editor is 
from Paris: this was probably the editor for the Oratory, who had also 
been responsible for printing other books from Quarre. But the Ursu- 
lines of Faubourg Saint-Jacques could not have been the recipients as, at 
that particular time, they were no longer in contact with the Oratori- 
ans, 51 and what is more, their own link with Angela Merici had been for- 
gotten at the time of their transformation into enclosed nuns of the 
Order of St Ursula.’ 2 The same reasons hold good for the Ursulines of 
other monasteries belonging to the Congregation of Paris, as for exam- 
ple, Saint-Omer (founded in 1626) and Lille (founded in 1642). 

It would seem as if the Ursulines of Liege must be excluded, too, as 
they had already had a biography of Angela Merici printed in 1626, and 
also those at Dinant (1627) and at Huy (1638), who were closely linked 
to Liege. 

A more valid theory could be advanced from the following facts: 

— on 6 March 1627, the Ursulines at Poligny established a house at 
Salins; now Quarre was the superior of the Oratory at Salins from 1629 
to 1631; 

— on 19 March 1656, Jean-Hugues Quarre added a codicil to his will: in 
it he bequeathed a sum of money to the superior, or to Sister Jeanne de 
Jesus, of the monastery of Salins, to have some masses said. 

— on the other hand, the Ursulines at Poligny, who had founded Salins, 
had as one of their members, in 1648, a Mother Anne du Saint- 
Sacrement Quarre. 

Perhaps it is for one of these two communities that Father Quarre 
wrote his book. We do not know. We only know that the superior of 
Poligny wrote to the Ursulines at Dijon on 15 June 1756, asking them for 
a book on the “venerable Mother”, adding the detail: “Nous en avons un 
tres encien par le Rd pere Care Pere de l’oratoire, mais en Gaulois”. 53 

Philippe Annaert has also put forward another theory: in 1644 the 
Ursulines had settled at Mons, in Flanders. Round about 1660 they 
turned to Bernardino Faino, asking him for information about “blessed” 

51 Marie-Andref. JfiGOU, Les Ursulines du Faubourg St. Jacques a Paris 1607-1662, Avant-propos de 
Jean Orcibal. Presses Universitaires de France, 1981. Bibliotheque de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes 
Section des Sciences Religieuses, vol.LXXXII, pp.30-31. 

52 Ibid., p.35. 

53 For Poligny and Salins, cf. Les Chroniques de i'Ordre des Ursulines recueillies pour l’usage des Reli- 
gieuses du mesme C3rdre. Par M.D.P.U. [Mere de Pommereu Ursuline]. A Paris, chez lean Henault, 
Imprimeur-iure, rue S. Jacques a l’Ange Gardien, 1673. In three parts. Part II, pp. 307-309. For the 
Testament, cf. Malines, Chapter Archives of the cathedral Saint-Rombaut, file Testaments, J.H. 
Quarre, 1656. Pointed out by Patrick de Greef of Louvain University. For Mother Quarre, cf Chro- 
niques, op. cit., Pt.II, p.426. For Poligny’s letter, cf AGUUR, Be. 161. 


Angela. In his reply, Faino suggested that they should turn to Guillaume 
de Blitterswijk, protector of the Ursulines at Ruremonde, who some 
years before had been sent information and Rules, with a view to writing 
a complete life of Angela. However, none of the bibliographies concern- 
ing Blitterswijk attributes a “Life” of Angela Merici to him. Faino even 
added at the end of his note to Mons: “And in case this gentleman 
should have the new ‘Life’ printed, try and obtain a copy. In fact, try 
and get at least two copies for us and send them on, as they would be a 
treasure to us, even though they would be written in the French lan- 
guage, the mother-tongue of that Country”. 54 

Taking into account that the Oratorians also had a house at Mons,, 
would Guillaume de Blitterswijk by any chance have asked Quarre to 
write this biography? 

There was a copy of Quarre’s Vie in the Ursuline library at Cologne 
(today this is in the Bibliotheque Royale Albert Ier in Brussels), and 
there was another at Valenciennes, where an abridged version of it was 
published in 1656 in an anonymous work: La gloire de Ste Ursule. 

We know that in the 18th century the Ursulines of. the Monastery of 
Via Vittoria at Rome used to read extracts from Quarre’s work to their 

We will have to return to this work of Quarre later on, because 
some of his conclusions are not tenable when subjected to a close 
examination. Moreover, he brings condemnation on himself when he 
describes the method he used in its composition. 

Surprising, in fact, is the candour with which he expresses his own 
reactions when he read Gondi’s Vita (perhaps in the Liege edition): 
“I’advoue que ie fus touche a la lecture du livre, dautant que ie voyois en 
cette Vie l’eclat de certaines lumieres extraordinaires qui estoient couver- 
tes d’un nuage assez facile a dissiper, et qui me paroissoient tres- 
importantes pour la gloire de Dieu, et utiles pour la consolation des Reli- 
gieuses et des ames devotes”. 55 

“... 1’Autheur qui l’a autrefois ecrite semble n’avoir voulu faire 
qu’un abrege et un simple narre autant obscur que sterile; mais pour peu 
que l’on y fasse de reflexion. Ton decouvre les tresors de grace et de 

54 “Et in caso quel Signore havesse stampata la nova Vita, procurare d’haverla. Et procurarne an- 
cora almeno due Copie per noi, et mandarle, che le stimaremo come un tesoro, benche fossero com- 
poste in lingua francese, ch’e la lingua materna di quel Paese”. AGUUR preserves an autograph of 
FAINO: “Relatione della Veneranda Compagnia di Sant’Orsola di Brescia alle Religiose Orsoline di 
Mans [sic] le quali n’hanno fatta istanza”, January 1661, 5 folios recto-verso. 

55 Quarre, Kk, op. cit.. Preface, p. [17-18]. The pages of the “Epistre” and the “Preface” are not 


vertus que Dieu avoit cache dans cette ame d’election. I’ay done travaille 
sur ce plan”. 56 

i’ay pris le soin d’eclaircir ce qui estoit le plus obscur et me suis 
estudie de mettre en ordre ce qui paroissoit confus, et apporter un peu de 
iour a beaucoup de choses qui me sembloient obscures et cachees”. 57 

According to his own statement, the criterion followed by Quarre 
was that of “expliquer plustost que d’escrire la Vie de la B. Angele”. 58 He 
states that he has based himself chiefly on Father Ottavio Fiorentino, an 
Italian; 59 but the few pages of Gondi have become 582 under Quarre’s 
pen, without mentioning the 34 pages of introduction. 

Taking the author’s statements quoted above into consideration, 
the reader must exercise the greatest caution vis-a-vis his method of 
work. We will not fail to draw attention, in the appropriate place, to 
some of his arbitrary viewpoints and conclusions. At times he reveals a 
superficial knowledge of Gondi’s Vita. What is more, under the emotive 
impulse of having, so he thinks, rediscovered as it deserved to be, a neg- 
lected or unappreciated saintly life, he slips into unfortunate inaccuracies 
and exaggerations. 

Quarre’s Vie de la B. Angele was the only large-scale Merician biog- 
raphy written in French and some pages of spiritual commentary have a 
certain appeal. These two factors helped to make the work appreciated; 
the Chroniques de I’Ordre des Ursulines published not only a large extract 
from the Preface, but also the most relevant biographical passages, under 
the title of: Im Vie de la Mere Angele de Bresse, premiere institutrice de I’Or- 
dre des Ursulines tiree du Livre de sa Vie, composee par le R.P. Hugues Quarre, 
Prestre de I’Oratoire, sur I’ltalien du R.P. Ottavio Fiorentino. 

The same thing happened for the Italian edition of the Chroniques , 60 
Then Father Boeck, sj, translated this extract into German; it was printed 
in 1720, as is mentioned briefly in a letter dated 19 February 1757, from 
the superior of the Ursulines at Landshut (already referred to) to the 
Ursulines of the Monastery at Rome. 61 

The Chronicles helped to circulate the extract and this could explain 
why Quarre’s work was not re-printed and why the complete text, prob- 
ably found to be too wordy, was not translated into other languages. 

56 Ibid. Preface, p.[2 1]. 

57 Ibid. Preface, p.[31]. 

58 Ibid. Epistre, p.[10]. 

59 Ibid. Preface, p.[31], 

60 Cf. Chroniques, op. cit., Pt.I, pp.21-33. For the Italian edition cf. Le Croniche deii’Ordine delle Religiose 
Orsoiine raccolte per uso dell’istess’Ordine, da M.D.P.U. [Mere de Pommereu Ursuline] in lingua 
francese. Tradotte nell’Italiano a dilatazione dell’istesso Sant’Ordine. Prima parte, Trattato primo. 
In Venezia, 1705, Domenico Lovisa, pp. 17-25. 

61 AGUUR, Be. 86. 


In connection with this, we would like to quote an opinion 
expressed by the Ursulines at Dijon to those at Rome, in a letter they 
wrote on 12 July 1756 concerning the devotion to “blessed” Angela: 

nous avons encore sa vie imprimee en Italien et une autre ecritte par 
Mr Hugues Quarre de l’Oratoire qui est remplie de tant de comentaires 
et de reflexion que le lecteur en est ennuye”. 62 

f) Bernardino Faino (?-1673) 

Brescian, 63 with a late priestly vocation, Faino became deputy and 
then superior general of the Company of St Ursula at Brescia. Having 
“discovered and brought to light some interesting facts hitherto un- 
known”, 64 he wanted to make these “interesting facts” known through a 
biography of Angela Merici: 

- Vita della Serva di Dio di beat a memoria la Madre Angela Merici da De- 
sen^ano fondatrice della celebre Compagnia delle Vergini di Sant’Orsola di Bre- 
scia, il cui Corpo riposa nella Chiesa di Sant’Afra. Scritta prima, e stam- 
pata dal P. Ottavio Gondio Fiorentino; poi riordinata, e corretta, et ac- 
cresciuta dal Superiore Generale d’essa Compagnia. In Bologna, 1672. 
Per Gio. Recaldini. 

This biography consists of 88 pages, numbered separately, even 
though it follows the printed Regola della Compagnia delle Vergini di S. Or- 
sola di Brescia. La quale pud servire anco ad altre Citta, essendo meglio espressa, 
et ordinata per commodo, e beneficio universale. Con la Vita della Madre Angela 
Merici sua Fondatrice di Beat a memoria. In Bologna, 1672. Per Gio. Recal- 
dini. The Regola consists of 200 pages, 182 of which are numbered ([18] 
+ 182). 

Before writing his biography, Faino devoted himself to archive- 
research, to transcriptions from documents, and to noting carefully any- 
thing of interest about Angela Merici and her institution. There is ample 
evidence of this in his handwritten work Brescia Beata 65 and in his Miscel- 
lanea .“ 

Antonio Cistellini says he was a well-read and devoted historian, a 
good and learned man. 67 His ponderous work certainly reflects a deep 

62 AGUUR, Be. 54 
61 Cf. supra, Ch.I, 2.b. 

M DONEDA, Vita, op. cit . , p. 19. “... rinvenute e date alia luce alcune buone notizie, che stavano 

65 BQ, ms.E.I.2,3,5 passim. 

“ BQ, ms.K.VI.l. 

67 Antonio Cistellini, Figure della Riforma F re trident ma, Brescia, Morcelliana, 1948, p.34. 


piety and a lively interest in the ecclesiastical history of Brescia, as well as 
a marked admiration for Angela Merici. Doneda says of him that “he has 
indeed rendered a service to the Ecclesiastical History of Brescia, not so 
much by what he has written, as by what he has collected together and 
preserved”. 68 One wonders if Doneda is referring here to the biography 
of Angela or if it is not rather to the Regola which precedes it (in the 
1672 edition) and which we will discuss later. 

Lombardi recalls that in 1671 a handwritten copy of the Vita was 
sent by Faino himself to the Elector of Bavaria who had asked him for 
it. 69 Then during the process of canonisation, this same manuscript was 
sent for in Rome. We have proof of this in a letter of 1 October 1757, 
written by the above-mentioned superior of Landshut: “On nous de- 
mande icy la vie de la Bienheureuse Mere Angele, disant qu’on la souhai- 
toit a Rome; c’est un manuscrit que les Religieuses Ursulines de Bresse 
ont envoye a feu l’Electeur Ferdinant Marie Fan 1671. Je m’en etonne, 
puis que ce ne peut etre qu’une copie traduite de l’italien, ayant sa vie 
imprimee en frangois de Fan 1676. Toute-fois si pouvoit etre utile ou 
necessaire, je me ferai un plaisir de l’envoyer au plutot que possible”. 70 
During the interrogation of 27 July 1758, Mother Schiantarelli stated 
that she had, in fact, received it from the Ursulines of Landshut. 71 

If, at this point, we were asked for our opinion on Merician histo- 
riography in its broad outlines, we would have to say that Bellintani, 
Gondi and Faino advance in the same direction, with the same honesty 
of purpose, and also with the same desire for truth. But the first two lack 
any methodological approach, while Faino has the advantage over them 
in this respect, and also gives some information, the source of which is 
lost today. On the other hand, however, certain of his statements are 
sometimes surprisingly naive. 

Teresa Ledochowska, in the Bibliography in her Vol.I, mentions 
some minor authors, who for various reasons took an interest in Angela 
Merici before her beatification. As for ourselves, we preferred to deal 
only with those whom hagiographers and biographers of Merician 
historiography refer to generally. And we will do the same for the later 

68 Doneda, Vita, op. cit ., p.19: “molto benemerito della Storia Ecclesiastics di Brescia per cio che 
ha raccolto e conservato, ma non egualmente per quello che ha scritto”. 

69 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.XII-XIll, note (n). 

70 AGUUR, Be. 86. ms. 

71 APC. Vat. 339, f.235v. 


2. 18th AND 19th CENTURIES 

In the second half of the 18th century the processes of beatification 
and canonisation of Angela Merici, with the strict procedures laid down 
by the Roman Curia, encouraged documentary research and revived, 
with the devotion, also interest in Angela as a person. Her biographers’ 
attention became more penetrating and their judgment more discerning, 
even if the inevitable tribute was still paid to certain stylistic modes of 
expression favoured in hagiography and in the spiritual attitudes of the 
age. There was a growing concern to adhere more closely to the histori- 
cal reality as offered by the documents, which were approached in a new 
spirit of enquiry; but the necessary references to the background where 
Angela Merici lived and the Company of St Ursula was born were lack- 
ing, and it was not yet known where to situate the documents. Doneda 
and Lombardi mark the high point of Merician historiography in the 
18th century. 

a) Carlo Doneda (1701-1781) 

The first Merician biography in which events and documents are 
treated with a critical sensitivity is Doneda’s: 

— Vila della B. Angela Merici da Desen^ano Fondatrice della Compagnia di 
Sant’Orsola scritta da Carlo Doneda Sacerdote Bresciano. In Brescia, 
1768. Dalle stampe di Giambattista Bossini; 182 pages ([4] + 178); in 8°. 
There is a copy of it in the Biblioteca Queriniana, classified X.X.3. 

“Another edition”, consisting of 142 pages, in 16°, - the first hav- 
ing undergone some revision after the death of Doneda - was published 
in Brescia in 1822: Vita di S. Angela Merici da Desen^ano, Fondatrice della 
Compagnia di S. Orsola, scritta dal fu reverendo signor Don Carlo Do- 
neda sacerdote bresciano, altra edizione, Brescia, per Gaetano Venturini, 

Carlo Doneda had received his early professional experience reorgan- 
ising the Capitular Archives of Brescia, 72 and then had been appointed 
librarian of the Queriniana in 1757. He was present at the ordinary proc- 
ess of beatification, acting as the fiscal Promoter of the Curia of Brescia, 
and at the apostolic process of canonisation, as Sub-Promoter of the 
faith. These experiences gave him a “habitus” of professional soundness, 

72 For this and other biographical information, cf. introduction to C. DONEDA, Notice della Zecca e 
delle Monete di Brescia , ediz. 2 a , corredata di note ed accresciuta della Tavola delle Monete, e di una 
nuova Cronaca da Guid’ Antonio Zanetti. Bologna, nella Stamperia di Lelio dalla Volpe, 1786. 


which inspires confidence, and of which he gives proof in his choice of 
documents and in the way he interprets them. 

He had been “entrusted by the Mother General of the Company of 
St Ursula at Brescia to go through the Archives of the Company very 
thoroughly”, as he himself put it, 73 in order to extract anything that 
might be useful at the Roman process of canonisation. And he adds: “At 
the same time I was also entrusted with preparing for print a new Life 
of Blessed Angela, since all the copies of the Lives written by Gondi 
and Faino were scattered, and there were no longer any of them to be 
found for sale, and it was not deemed prudent to get either of them 
reprinted ...”. 

“... I have tried to recount, in a clear, simple way, the worthy deeds 
in the life of the Blessed Merici, treating them according to the succes- 
sion of years, in so far as this has been possible, given the obscurity 
shrouding them ... At times I have had to break off and use my own 
judgment because, in general, the Writers themselves are very seldom in 
total agreement, so it has been necessary either to find, if possible, some 
interpretation which will bring them together, or to make a choice be- 
tween the different accounts.... In the most important places, 1 report the 
Authors’ exact words ... Hence in the first place, the Readers will be able 
to check my scrupulous fidelity; and then they will know how to judge 
for themselves the degree of credibility each fact deserves, by weighing 
carefully the authorities upon which it rests ...”. 74 

The Vita is accompanied by copious notes of a historical nature, 
contained in the appendix to the biography, from pp. 125-178. 

Guerrini gives this opinion about Doneda: “Without literary frills, 
but with vast erudition and shrewd perception, Doneda has constructed 
for the biography of St Angela a good, solid platform, which is still 
standing and has lasted well, and upon which all later biographers have 

73 DONEDA, Vita, op. at . , p.21: “incaricato dalla Madre generate delta Compagnia di S. Orsola di 
Brescia di sviscerare l’Archivio di essa Compagnia”. 

74 Ibidem, pp.21-24 passim: “In tale occasione a me venne ancora commessa la cura di preparar per 
le stampe una nuova Vita della Beata, giacche tutti gli esemplari delle Vite composte dal P. Gondi e 
dal Faino erano dispersi, ne piu se ne ritrovano di vendibili, e neppure si giudico prudente consiglio 
rimettere o Puna o l’altra sotto de’ torchi...”. 

Ho procurato di riferire con uno stile piano e semplice le gesta della Beata Merici, distribuendole 
giusta la serie degli anni, per quanto mi e stato permesso dall’oscurita in cui sono invoke... Ho do- 
vuto arrestarmi talvolta, ed usare la critica, perche gli Scrittori medesimi non sogliono andar quasi 
mai cosi perfettamente d’accordo, che non sia d’uopo o di qualche interpretazione per conciliarli in- 
sieme se si puo, o di fare i loro varii racconti... A luoghi piu importanti, rapporto le precise parole 
degli Autori... Quindi i Leggitori primieramente si accerteranno della mia scrupolosa fedelta; di poi 
sapranno da se medesimi giudicare qual grado di credenza si meriti ciascun fatto, ponderando le 
autorita su cui si appoggia...”. 


built”. 75 We can fully endorse this opinion. Lombardi, who follows 
shortly after Doneda, values his “ judicious critical sense and singular 
erudition”, and continues: “As for myself, I am indeed very indebted to 
him; I owe more to him alone than to all the rest put together, because 
it is from him alone that I have found out a great deal of information, 
which it would have been futile on my part to have looked for anywhere 
else”. 76 

These statements make it all the more regrettable that Doneda, al- 
though he had access to so many documents at first hand, did not make 
greater use of them. He could have given us, in fact, a much fuller treat- 
ment of the life of St Angela, and left us a more complete record of 
these same documents. 

b) Girolamo Lombardi ( 1707-1792 ) 

Born at Verona, Girolamo Lombardi had joined the Venetian prov- 
ince of the Company of Jesus in 1722. At Rome he had attracted the at- 
tention of Benedict XIV, who made use of his services to get his own 
works published. He had also been a member of the Academy of Arca- 
dians. 77 Thus, he was more of an editor, a commentator, and compiler 
of analytical indexes, than an actual writer. 

At the request of the Ursulines of the monastery in Rome, who 
were trying to advance the cause of canonisation of the one whom they 
had always looked upon as their first mother and foundress, Lombardi 
wrote a biography of Angela: 

— Vita della B. Angela Merici Fondatrice della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola , 
scritta da Girolamo Lombardi sacerdote Veronese, In Venezia, 1778. De- 
dicata a Sua Eccellenza il N.U. Gio. Francesco Pisani Procurator di S. 

This biography is undoubtedly the most documented, but too much 
petty detail, the “professional vice” of the typical collector, at times ob- 
scures the clarity of the text. However, this attention to detail, pedantic 
in some ways, is today, after an interval of two centuries when so many 

75 Guerrini, S. Angela, op. cit., p.Xl: “Senza lenocinii letterari, ma con vasta erudizione e con 
discernimento sagace, il Doneda ha gettato per la biografia di S. Angela una solida piattaforma, che 
ancora dura e resiste, e sulla quale hanno poi edificato tutti i biografi posteriori”. 

76 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.XIII. "... critica giudiciosa e rara erudizione... Io certo per me gli sono 
tenuto moltissimo, e piu debbo a lui solo, che a tutti unitamente, avendo in lui solo trovate parec- 
chie notizie, che inutile sarebbe stato qualunque studio volendole cercare altrove”. In the note 
on p.203, Lombardi quotes Doneda, Notice manoscritte mandate a Roma in occasion dei Processi della 
B. Angela. This manuscript has not been found up to date. 

77 Sommervogf.l, op. cit., t.IV, col. 1926-1928. 


of the documents have been dispersed, the most valuable feature of the 

The author is given the title “sacerdote Veronese” in the frontis- 
piece, without any reference to his belonging to the Company of Jesus, 
as this had been suppressed in 1773. 

The volume, in quarto, consists of XXVIII pages of introduction 
+ 386 pages. It has the benefit of a “Chronological Index” (pp. 353-356); 
an “Index of Authors and other Books referred to in the Life of Blessed 
Angela” (pp. 357-366); and an “Index of notable things to be found in the 
Life of Blessed Angela” (pp. 367-385). There is a copy of it in the BQ, 
classified SB.A.III.25. 

Girolamo Lombardi had consulted all the Merician literature and all 
the documentation which had been collected together in Rome for the 
canonical processes. It can be seen from what remains of his correspond- 
ence with Mother Luisa Schiantarelli, postulatrix of the cause, 78 and with 
Father Francesco from Desenzano, one of those responsible for the process 
in the dioceses of Brescia and Verona, 79 that he followed with assiduity 
and interest all the different phases of the process, thanks to the printed 
sections of the “Positiones”. 

Lombardi reconstructs facts and draws conclusions from them with 
scrupulous care, making use of all the material he has at his disposal; he 
quotes this material conscientiously, juxtaposing, comparing and discuss- 
ing everything. But he does not evaluate his sources before using them; 
there is no selection, everything goes in. This results in muddled pages, 
where evidence of unequal value comes pouring out, sometimes in a 
rather chaotic way. One could say that the author was anxious not to let 
any detail escape him, no matter how insignificant. 

His Vita, weighed down by so much learning, certainly does not 
make easy reading. However, it must be consulted by anyone who wants 
to get as full a picture as possible of all the literary works of a historical 
nature relating to St Angela, and also of the various problems raised by 
this output. For the most part, too, Lombardi appears to be accurate 
and objective in the way he interprets the documents. 

78 Cf. 90 letters. AGUUR, Bd. Lombardi. 

79 Cf. Venice, Archivio Seminario Patriarcale (ASPV), Sala Monico XXa, ms.786,4. The material 
comes from an archive-collection named after Jacopo Alberti, a cultured lawyer, who had been par- 
ticularly interested in the canonical process for the beatification and canonisation of Angela Merici. 


c) Germano Jacopo Gussago ( 1747-1827 ) 

In the Biblioteca Queriniana there is a manuscript entitled: 

- Notice storico-critiche intorno alia Vita di Angela Merici da Desen^ano 
Fondatrice della Compagnia delle Orsoline, ms.K.V.19 (originally ms.Ducos 

This manuscript consists of 89 pages, and is in a beautiful handwrit- 
ing, possibly a copy in readiness for printing. It bears no author’s name, 
but is attributed to Germano Jacopo Gussago. Nor is it dated, but it 
must have been completed after 7 September 1808, since it includes the 
Decretal Letter of the canonisation of St Angela which is dated 24 May 
1807, followed by the attestation of the vicar-general of Brescia, con- 
firming its agreement with the printed Brief; but this attestation is dated 
7 September 1808. 

The text is not preceded by any preface or dedicatory letter. The au- 
thor follows the Vita of Lombardi very closely, even using the same 
words as Lombardi. When notes have to be added, he uses Lombardi’s, 
without quoting him, but cites the sources Lombardi had drawn on as if 
he were using the information first-hand. Sometimes entire passages are 
given, word for word or nearly, with just the occasional replacement of 
out-dated phrases, without any indication marks which should show that 
it is a copy. As a result, although this work is certainly more readable 
than the original of Lombardi, it is really only a shortened version of the 
latter, without this being stated. Did the author intend giving some indi- 
cation or other about his close dependence on Lombardi? Perhaps. 

We would not have considered this manuscript, if it had not been 
quoted by Giuditta Bertolotti (referred to earlier). 80 She refers to an 
opinion expressed, she says, by Cesare Cantu in “Grande Ulustrazione 
del Lombardo-Veneto”: “The feast of Angela’s canonisation induced 
Gussago to write a historical treatise about this saintly fellow-citizen. He 
makes critical comparisons between the first biographers, checking the 
various items of information with scrupulous exactitude. His work truly 
deserves the adjective ‘critical’, and is one of the most scholarly works 
to appear on St Angela”. And G. Bertolotti continues: “Prof. Guerrini 
(n.l) agrees with this favourable opinion and confirms that Gussago 
shows excellent discernment in his evaluation of information about 
the Saint”. 81 

80 Bertolotti, Storia, op. cit., ediz. 1923 and 1926, pp. 11-12. The review of Cantu would be in 
the “Grande Illustrazione del Lombardo-Veneto”, V, III. Milano, 1858, p.152. We were not able 
to find it. 

81 The note (1) of G. Bertolotti refers to the periodical “II Poverello d’Assisi ed il Santo dei Poveri”; 


In fact, even just a superficial knowledge of Lombardi (necessary 
for anyone who wants to write the history of Angela Merici), would 
have made G. Bertolotti and Guerrini have serious reservations about 
this work of Gussago, so clearly indebted to that of Lombardi. 

d) ¥ Hippo Maria Salvatori (1740-1824) 

A Jesuit since 1754, and an ordinary priest during the years when 
the Company of Jesus was suppressed, Salvatori was able to resume the 
Jesuit life at Naples as soon as the Order was restored. He was appointed 
one of their ministers, first at Palermo and then at Rome, where he died 
at the Gesu on 7 November 1824. Sommervogel 82 gives the names of 
several of his publications: some “Lives”, such as those of Ven. Veronica 
da Cortona, of Ven. Anna di S. Agostino, a Carmelite, and of Bl. 
Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, are extracted from Acts of the canonical 
Processes; other “Lives” are adaptations from earlier authors, such as the 
abridged lives of St Aloysius Gonzaga and of St Francis Xavier. Salva- 
tori must have enjoyed a certain success, as some of his works were 
re-printed several times and even sometimes translated. 

His biography of St Angela also met with quite considerable suc- 

Vita della Santa Madre Angela Merici fondatrice della Compagnia di S. Or- 
sola ossia dell’Instituto delle Orsoline, scritta dal P. Filippo Maria Salvatori 
della Compagnia di Gesu, in Roma 1807. Presso Lazzarini Stampatore 
della Rev. Camera Apostolica. 

The book measures 27 x 20cm, and consists of VIII + 270 pages. It 
is a popular work written, as is indicated in the dedication to Pope Pius 
VII, with the aim of holding up the saintly life of Angela “for the admi- 
ration and imitation of the Faithful”. 83 

Salvatori belongs to the “school” of Doneda-Lombardi with regard 
to the contents, but he does not follow the same method, as he has no 
critical intention in mind. He has no kind of notes; he only points out 
sometimes, within the context, the author or source to which he is refer- 
ring, but these indications are brief and give no bibliographical or ar- 
chive reference. 

anno IX, n.5. Brescia, maggio 1907. We give the passage referred to in full: “Gussago J acopo, No- 
tice storico-critiche intorno alia vita di Angela Merici da Desen^ano fondatrice della Compagnia delle Orsoline. 
Bibl. Queriniana, manoscritto Ducos n.116; autografo dell’A, gia preparato per la stampa. II p. Gus- 
sago e di una esattezza scrupolosa nel vagliare le notizie su S. Angela Merici, e queste memorie meri- 
tano davvero il nome di critiche , come meriterebbero l’onore della stampa”. 

82 Sommervogel, op. cit., ed. 1896, t.VII, col. 490-495. 

83 Salvatori, Vita, op. cit., p.IV. 


Taken as a whole, and within the limits of a popular work, this 
book has its use. In addition, it has the merit of including a large number 
of documents, such as: the Ricordi and the Testamento of Angela Merici, 
which the author has brought to light by taking them from the copy of 
the Processes (made from Cozzano’s manuscript); the R egola, but it is the 
one adapted by Charles Borromeo at Brescia in 1582 and republished by 
Cristoni in 1673, 84 by then reduced from 26 to 25 chapters. Salvatori, as a 
matter of fact, has omitted the Ricordi which appeared in Ch.21, on the 
following grounds: “... in part because this is the way they are recorded 
in the Summary presented to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and in 
part because they form a separate section of instruction, well suited to 
anyone who has the direction of souls consecrated to God” (p.206). Also 
to be added to these documents are the Bull of Paul III, some Briefs and 
the Decree of canonisation. 

Sommervogel cites a French translation of it: Vie de Sainte Angele de 
Merici, fondatrice des Ursulities, traduite de l’ltalien sur l’imprime a Rome 
chez Lazzarini 1807, par M. Allibert, chanoine de Saint-Jean de Lyon. 
Lyon et Paris, Perisse freres, 1847, 12°, pp. XXIII +320. 

Recently an English translation has been made: 

— Angela by Sister Marie di Mercurio osu. A translation from the orig- 
inal Italian Vita della Santa Madre Angela Merici by Filippo Maria Salva- 
tori, sj. The Ursulines of Brown County, Saint Martin, Ohio, 1970. 

3. 20th CENTURY 

The invitation sent out by the Vatican Council II to Institutes of 
consecrated life, urging them “to return to the sources”, has aroused 
during these last decades a renewed and lively interest in Angela Merici 
on the part of all Ursulines. But already in the first half of the 20th cen- 
tury, the 4th centenary of the Merician foundation in 1935 and of the 
death of the Foundress in 1940, had focussed the attention of religious 
circles throughout the world on Angela. 

Not all the works which we are going to introduce in this section 
commemorate an occasion, but the occasion certainly helped to make 
them better known. Connected with these works was a whole series of 
various and numerous minor literary works which had a wide circula- 
tion, but these at times contain interpretations which require some dis- 

84 Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.V. 


It would be overstepping our purpose to pass judgment on all this 
output: devotional, hagiographical, commemorative works and essays. 
Therefore, as in the preceding sections, we will limit ourselves to point- 
ing out only those works which stand out as land-marks in Merician his- 

a) Giuditta Bertolotti in Garioni (1893-1985) 

Giuditta Bertolotti, when a student in search of a subject for her de- 
gree thesis, and herself a native of the region of Lake Garda, agreed to 
study Angela Merici. Her work, presented to the College of Professors 
of the Academy of Science and Arts at Milan in 1919, received the high- 
est approval. From this came the idea of publishing a book “without the 
pedantic erudition of the thesis”, as she put it on p.XI of the Preface; a 
book which would “not be a biography like the others, but the story of 
the ideal service which Angela Merici carried out in her own day and in 
the history of humanity”. Thus appeared the book: 

— Giuditta Bertolotti, Storia di S. Angela Merici Vergine Bresciana, 
(1474-1540), Brescia, Tipografia e Libreria Queriniana, 1923. This first 
edition consists of XII + 249 pages: there is a copy of it in the Queri- 
niana, classified SB. B. VII. 7. 

A second edition, “revised and corrected”, likewise printed at the 
Queriniana, Brescia, Libreria Editrice Vescovile, 1926, has the same 
number of pages. 

Two other editions appeared later: 

— Giuditta Garioni Bertolotti, S. Angela Merici 1/ergine Bresciana, III 
edizione rifatta. Prefazione di Mons. Paolo Guerrini, Queriniana, Bre- 
scia. 1950. 

— Giuditta Garioni Bertolotti, S. Angela Merici Vergine Bresciana, Edi- 
trice Ancora, Milano, 1971. 

Giuditta Bertolotti had one merit, that of placing Angela, her fel- 
low-citizen, in her historical, geographical and social setting. Further- 
more, she had a great desire in mind, to reconstruct the human events of 
the Saint’s life on the foundation of archive-documents. 

Somehow this plan does not seem to have been fully realised. We 
were not able to consult the thesis in its original wording; therefore, we 
cannot judge if the printed edition has kept any of the scientific disci- 
pline, and how much, but it seems legitimate to us to doubt it. For exam- 
ple, G. Bertolotti quotes documents belonging to the Company which 
were already lost in her time, but she quotes them as if she had been able 


to consult them directly, and she extrapolates passages from them as if 
she had them at hand, without giving any indication of the source she 
has drawn on. In the later editions after 1926, she corrects some of this 
bibliographical information, but in such a way that one is led to believe 
that the original archive-source material was lost after this date. 

The 1950 and 1971 editions, completely revised, bear little resem- 
blance to the first two editions. They are really only fictional biogra- 
phies, where the aim to popularise has replaced the scientific intention. 
Their only service was to make the figure of Angela Merici better 
known. Even in the first editions there is a similar lack of scientific ap- 
proach in the way the documents are introduced in the Appendix. Ac- 
tually, G. Bertolotti takes the Vita e morte della B. Suor Angela Merici and 
the Justification (both of them by Nazari) from the manuscript in the 
Queriniana already referred to, ms.D.VI1.20, entitled Di vari Santi Bre- 
scianiA She keeps 1560 as the date for the Vita, as it is written in this 
manuscript, and for the Justification, which came before the Vita, she 
gives the year 1568 (which is exact), without being aware of the discrep- 
ancy. In addition, in the original text the short introductions to each proc- 
ess-interrogation are in Latin; the author makes a synthesis of them in 
Italian, without letting the reader know this. 

She gives no indication of the source of the other two documents 
published in the appendix, namely, Tribesco’s testimony and the extract 
from Landini’s letter. 86 

The author has kept the same “Appendice di Documenti” in the 
later editions; she should have at least indicated that important 
source-material had been discovered during the intervening period, and 
explained why she had not taken it into account. 

And then, in the 1971 edition, she has added to these documents of 
a historical nature one of the writings of Luigi Fossati, L’ opera e la perso - 
nalita di T. Angela , but it is not clear why this has been placed here and 
there are some basic errors in it. 

b) Cecjlja Vubienska (1874-1937) 

Mother Cecylja Lubienska, superior general of the Ursulines of the 
Polish Union, 87 devoted herself indefatigably to the search for documents 
regarding St Angela. With the help of Monsignor Paolo Guerrini, she dis- 

85 Cf. supra, Ch.I, 2.b. 

86 Cf. supra, Ch.Il, l.a. 

87 The Polish Union entered the Roman Union in 1936. 


covered the Secondo Libro Generate 88 in the State Archives at Brescia. In the 
Biblioteca Queriniana, she found a copy of the Kegola printed by Da- 
miano Turlino 89 and a manuscript of the R isposta contro quelli persuadono 
la clausura by Cozzano. 90 From the Atti del Processo she brought to light 
the other writings of Cozzano. 91 

We have only the first volume of Mother Cecylja’s intended work 
of two volumes: 

- Swi^ta Aniela Merici i jej Dqjelo [St Angela Merici and her Work] I. 
Ojct^y^na sw. Anieli i jej Zjcie [The Country of St Angela and her Life], 
Krakow, 1935. This volume consists of LXVIII 373 pp. 

It contains a review of the sources and works (pp.VII-XXXIV), the 
Bibliography (pp.XXXVII-LXVIII) and an introduction on “The Spirit 
of the Time”. The Appendix includes the R egola of Turlino, with the 
translation in Polish opposite; the Ricordt and the Testamento taken from 
the APC. Vat.; Angela’s act of election, dated 18 March 1537, taken from 
the Secondo Libro Generate; the Bull of Paul III found in an edition of the 
Rule published at Brescia in 1620; some extracts from the three writings 
of Cozzano and the two writings of Nazari; an index of names. 

Referring to the work as a whole, Guerrini gives as his view that 
“it does not add anything of importance to the biography of St An- 
gela.... Even so, it is the best and most complete history of St Angela 
Merici”. 92 

The first part of this opinion should have been kinder: it is certainly 
true that the background reconstruction is very prolix, but at the same 
time it is well documented and has made a notable contribution to the 
biography by placing the Saint in a more realistic setting, the result be- 
ing a kind of interaction between them, from which they emerge recipro- 
cally enriched. 

On the other hand, we fully share the second part of Guerrini’s 
opinion. The pages entitled “Ocena zrodel i opracowan”, 93 in which C. 
Lubienska gives a critical evaluation of the sources and works she has 
examined are perceptive, well-balanced, and extremely clear and honest. 
These pages alone would suffice to arouse the sincere esteem of scholars. 

88 Cf. supra, Ch.l, 3c. It is in the bibliographical introduction placed at the beginning of the work 
that C. Lubienska states: “Tekst najstarszy r?kopismienny, wl^czony do Ksi^g Towarzystwa, ktore 
dzi?ki promocy ks. prof. Don Paolo Guerrini moglismy odszukac, znajduje si? w Archivio di Stato 
w Brescji”. Cf. LUBIENSKA, Sw. Aniela , op. at., p.XVII. 

89 Cf. supra, Ch.l, 3.a. 

90 Cf. supra, Ch.l, 3.b. 

91 Cf. supra, Ch.l, 3.b. 

92 Guerrini, S. Angela, op. cit., p. XV. 

9i “Evaluation of sources and works”. 



Her thirty-two pages of bibliography, systematically arranged, also 
provide an excellent starting-point for a restoration of the Merician bib- 
liography. 94 

Mother tubienska’s work, written almost on the eve of World War 
II, remained virtually unknown outside the borders of Poland, and the 
early post-war years were not a propitious time to tackle its translation 
and publication. Thus, even the projected translation into Italian did not 
take place, while the untimely death of Mother Lubienska prevented her 
from completing the draft of the second volume. 

c) Paolo Guerrini (1880-1960) 

For the 4th Centenary of the foundation of the Company of St Ur- 
sula, a collection of works appeared in Brescia in 1936, with the twofold 
aim of celebrating the occasion and of making a contribution to the local 

- S. Angela Merici e la Compagnia di S. Or sola nel IV Centenario della fonda- 
%ione (1535-1935). Miscellanea di Studi di S. Undset - G. Gaggia — P. 
Guerrini — L. Dentella. Editrice Ancora, Brescia, 1936. This was 
Volume 12 of the “Monografie di Storia Bresciana”, Series 7 of the “Memo- 
rie Storiche della Diocesi di Brescia”. Its 533 pages were the result of 
recent discoveries and re-discoveries. Taken as a whole, they are the first 
to embrace in one large sweep the period and the background, the 
Foundress, the foundation and its expansion, together with its revival 
after the Napoleonic suppression and its worldwide expansion during 
the 20th century. 

Paolo Guerrini, former librarian at the Queriniana, an indefatigable 
collector and editor of documents relating to Brescia, had assembled 
together there some of his essays, and others from various sources and 
with a different approach. 

His contribution, 95 entitled La Compagnia di S. Orsola dalle origini alia 
soppressione napoleonica (1535-1810), has 12 chapters and consists of 195 
pages. It offers, among other things, the presentation of some archive 
source-material relating to the history of the Company, the result of 
certain research regarding the family and relatives of Angela Merici, the 
setting in which the Company of St Ursula was born, and the Merician 

94 Together with the contribution of the Bibliography of BerNARDA R/oss (cf. supra, at the begin- 
ning of this chapter), which covers all types of Merician literature (historical, hagiographical, 
spiritual, pedagogical, etc.). 

9 ’ GUERRINI, La Compagnia di S. Orsola dalle origini alia soppressione napoleonica (1535-1810) in S. An- 
gela, op. cit., pp.53-247. 


Writings. This essay was meant to be the forerunner of a book which 
would have been completely devoted to the Saint (in the “Memorie Sto- 
riche” series) on the occasion of the 4th Centenary of her death in 1940, 
but World War II put an end to this project. 

We will have to come back to Guerrini later, and not always in sup- 
port of his statements, especially when in his over-hastiness - due to the 
amount of work he was publishing - he tends to indulge his own facility 
for writing, and this he could have avoided with a little more accurate 

However, far be it from our intention to belittle this editor who has 
rendered great service to Merician historiography. His monumental col- 
lection, recently reprinted, is invaluable for the documents which are 
published there, many for the first time, and for the information it offers, 
even if it would be prudent and useful to check each time with the 

d) Antonio Cistellini (1905- ) 

Antonio Cistellini is the author of two works, which are not equal 
in importance but are of equal interest, as they both portray the figure 
of Angela Merici: 

— Antonio Cistellini Prete dell’Oratorio, Figure della Biforma Pretriden- 
tina. Stefana Quingani. Angela Merici. Laura Mignani. Bartolomeo Stella. 
Francesco Cabrini. Francesco Santabona. Prefazione di Mons. Paolo Guer- 
rini. Morcelliana, 1948. Anastatic reprint with appendices, 1979. 96 

- Antonio Cistellini, L a vita religiosa net secoli XV e XVI, in Storia di 
Brescia promossa e diretta da Giovanni Treccani degli Alfieri, per interes- 
samento della Banca S. Paolo di Brescia, Morcelliana Editrice, 1962. II. 
“La dominazione veneta (1426-1575)”, 1963. 97 

In the first of these two works, Cistellini, ignoring any critical or 
historical problem and writing with ease, portrays a person who is alive 
and attractive, but this figure is indistinguishable from the traditional 
stereotypes into which the best-known and widespread Merician docu- 
ments have moulded her. 

The second work condenses the life and activity of Angela Merici 
into less than two pages, where the author has allowed several inaccura- 
cies to slip in, for example, the “Compagnia delle Dimesse di S. Orsola” 
(it was called “Compagnia di Sant’ Orsola”; and what is more, the word 

96 For the study on Angela Merici, cf. pp.47-55. 

97 For the profile of Angela Merici, cf. pp.456-457. 


“dimesse” did not come into use until later); “con voti religiosi” (the 
“virgins” of St Ursula did not take religious vows; they had a secular 
structure); and some dates are wrong. 

On the other hand, the research which Cistellini carried out on the 
“Divino Amore” - the results of which can be seen in the first work 
mentioned 98 as well as the publication of some of the documents relat- 
ing to this movement and to certain figures of the pre-Tridentine re- 
form, can all make a valuable contribution to historiography. 

e) Teresa Tedochowska (1904- ) 

Niece of Cecylja Lubienska and her companion during her voyages 
of exploration into Italian archives and libraries, Sister Teresa Ledo- 
chowska devoted herself, from 1963 onwards, to some historical re- 
search, the result of which was a two-volume work: 

— Angele Merici et la Compagnie de Ste-Ursule a la lumiere des documents. I. 
Une educatrice et me apotre de la Reforme Pre-Tridentine. II. IT evolution de la 
Compagnie primitive. Roma-Milano, Ancora 1968. The work is in French. 

The two volumes, which consist of XLVII + 335 and 427 pages re- 
spectively, are accompanied by some interesting documentary appendi- 
ces. Vol.I reproduces the Writings of St Angela (the Regola in Turlino’s 
edition, and the Ricordi and the Testamento from the APC. Vat.); the Pro- 
cesso Na^ari from the APC. Vat.; Tribesco’s testimony, taken from the 
publication of Bertolotti; 99 Pandolfo Nassino’s evidence as given in the 
APC. Vat.; the Act of election of Angela Merici taken from the Secondo 
Libro Generate ; the “Brief’ for the burial (which is, in fact, a Letter of the 
Apostolic Penitentiary) taken from the Vita of Lombardi. In Vol.II, the 
most important documents are the “triptych” of Cozzano: 100 the Risposta 
as given in the manuscript D.VII.8 in the BQ, the Epistola from Guer- 
rini’s edition, the Dichiara^ione from the APC. Vat.; and in addition, the 
Bolla of Paolo III from the Register of the ASV, and the Extract of the 
letter of Landini from Guerrini’s publication. 101 

A rich harvest of Merician documents had finally appeared, includ- 
ing the “triptych” of Cozzano, hitherto virtually unknown. The whole 
work was immediately translated into English: 

- Angela Merici and the Company of St. Ursula according to the historical 

98 Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., passim. 

99 Cf. supra, Ch.I, 2.b. 

100 Cf. supra, Ch.I, 3.b. 

101 Cf. supra, Ch.II, 3.c. 


documents. I. An educator and apostle of the pre-Tridentine reform II. The evo- 
lution of the primitive Company. Rome-Milan, Ancora. From the French 
edition of 1968. 

This was followed by a complete translation into Portuguese, and 
partial translations of it into Japanese and Italian. 

The work immediately had a very wide circulation. 102 The style, the 
documentation it offered and the novelty of some of the interpretations, 
all made it attractive. The new interpretations, in particular, seemed to 
strike a chord with the heartfelt social expectations of that period. 
Conclusions were drawn from them which had certainly not been 
envisaged by the author, and which would have repercussions on later 
religious historiography. The most valuable part of T. Ledochowska’s 
work was left in the shadow, while special attention was given to the 
hypothetical view of a certain sociological direction in the life and work 
of Angela Merici. Such a view appears, for example, in the Italian edition 
of Leon Cristiani, Volume XVII of the Histoire de I'Eglise edited by 
Fliche and Martin, or in a more restrained manner in the Storia della 
Chiesa in Italia by Gregorio Penco. 103 

Although it has no critical value whatsoever, we cannot pass over a 
new elaboration of T. Ledochowska’s study in Italian, dealing just with 
the first volume, by Maria Teresa Castelli: T. Ledochowska - M.T. Ca- 
stelli, Sant’ Angela Merici, Mericianum, Desenzano del Garda, 1981. 

Nearly always making a summary of the original, M.T. Castelli bor- 
rows statements and conclusions from it without weighing them, and 
then adds to them her own inaccuracies. Thus, we read, for example, the 
description 104 she gives of the Secondo Tihro Generate: 105 “... a State- 
register, which gathers together, from 1544 to 1632, all the bureaucratic 
information of the new association. This big protocol (which is in the 
State Archives in Brescia) contains, among other precious things, the 
Rule and the attested act of election of 1537. The Secondo Libro Gene- 

102 The hypotheses and conclusions expressed in this work were later synthesised in the articles 
“Angela Merici”, “Conservatori”, “Orsoline” in the Di^ionario degli Istituti di Perfeeyone, edited 
by GUERRINO PELLICCIA (1962-1968) and GlANCARLO Rocca (1969- ). Ed. Paoline, Roma, in 
vols.l.Il.VI respectively. These articles bear T. Ledochowska’s name. 

103 Storia della Chiesa. XVII. LEONE CRISTIANI, La Chiesa al tempo del Concilio di Trento. Edizione ita- 
liana di Alessandro Galuzzi, om. Editrice S.A.l.E. Torino 1977, pp.42-44. Here it is claimed that 
the Company of St Ursula has as its “principal aim the moral and religious education of women, the 
spiritual and material help of young abandoned girls, of the sick and of prostitutes” (p.43). Grego- 
rio PENCO, Storia della Chiesa in Italia , Vol.I, Dalle origini al Concilio di Trento , Milano, Jaca Book, 
1978, pp.657-658. 

IM Ledochowska-Castelu, Sant’ Angela, op. cit., p.52, note 2. 

105 For the Secondo Libro Generale, cf. supra, Ch.I 3.c. 


rale is also called Libro bollato or sigillato”. 106 

In addition to the vast amount of documentation contained in the 
Appendices, T. Ledochowska gives further information by means of 
footnotes which appear throughout the two volumes. Perhaps some 
translation and interpretation errors in these are due to the fact that, in 
spite of the author’s acquired knowledge of the Italian language, certain 
nuances and particularities of the local speech of the 15th and 16th centu- 
ries could easily have escaped her. 

Through our own research, and thanks to the documentation we 
have discovered during these last years, we have arrived at conclusions 
sometimes different from those put forward by Teresa Ledochowska in 
1968, especially with regard to certain documents and events. We will try 
and indicate the path we have taken, pointing out the different stages of 
our journey. 

106 “... un registro statale che accoglie dal 1544 al 1632 tutte le notizie burocratiche della nuova asso- 
ciazione. Parti preziose di questo grosso protocollo (che si trova all’Archivio di Stato in Brescia) 
sono tra l’altro la Regoia e I’atto notarile della elezione, del 1537. II Sec. Libro Generale e anche 
detto Libro bollato o sigillato”. For the Libro bollato or Sigillato , cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.I, Appendix 


Part II 


Chapter I 


The eye-witnesses and Angela’s first biographers do not seem to 
have been very interested in her childhood and adolescence, or in the 
members of her family. They were satisfied, in fact, with just repeating 
some of the details which Angela herself had recounted, such as her 
father reading to the family, her early penitential practices, the premature 
death of her sister, and that is about all. 

The figure of Angela became fixed half-way, as it were, between the 
stereotypes applicable to a large number of privileged souls and a certain 
reverential abstractionism. 

The documents which we discovered, especially at the Archivio 
Antico Comunale at Desenzano, as well as the one at Salo, yielded us an 
unexpected harvest of information. They are not easy to read (we have in 
mind the writing and language of those “rasse” about which we have al- 
ready spoken in Pt.I, Ch.I), and inevitably there are gaps due to the dis- 
persal of papers. This is probably why researchers in the past had diffi- 
culty in recovering these documents or in interpreting them. 

The recovery of these documents enabled us not only to make some 
rectifications and to complement what we already knew about the mater- 
nal branch of the family, but also to identify certain members of the Me- 
rici family, to see them living in their concrete setting and to share, as it 
were, in their daily life. The fields round the Grezze form the back- 
ground, in particular the “Machet”, which was the scene not only of 
rural misadventures, but especially of one of the most intense spiritual 
experiences of young Angela. 


Desenzano, on the south-west bank of Lake Garda or Benaco, is 
situated in the region which used to be called “Venetian Lombardy”, 
because geographically it belonged to Lombardy and politically it was 
under the Serenissima. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was a small town 


clustered round its castle perched on the top of a hill high enough to 
dominate the surrounding countryside. The shore was flanked by the 
houses of fishermen and grain-merchants, who were able to take advan- 
tage of the immediate access to the lake to evade in some measure the 
control of those collecting the town dues. Further inland, the gently un- 
dulating countryside was covered with pastures, fields and orchards. 

Bernardino Faino, and precisely in his “Note varie per la biografia 
di S. Angela Merici”, 1 which he wrote nearly two centuries after the 
period Angela spent at Desenzano, presents the countryside as follows: 
“Disenzano is a place to be counted as one of the most important of the 
Brescian Riviera, a part of the country so favoured by nature that it does 
not envy the excellence of the most fortunate coastal regions ... It is the 
commercial centre of all this Riviera region, which in the Brescian area 
consists of only 37 communes, that is the chief territorial units which, in 
their turn, are responsible for 140 well-populated villages, almost like 
colonies. I have called it the commercial centre because it is at Disen- 
zano, which is on the route to Venice, at a distance of 98 miles from this 
principal city” (and here Faino indicates the corresponding mileage for 
“all the other surrounding towns” of Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Mantua, 
Trent, Brescia, Cremona, Crema, Bergamo, Lodi and Milan), “it is here 
that grainstocks are amassed; these come from the very fertile farmlands 
of Cremona, and even more of Mantua, and are then sent out to feed 
many of the most-populated valleys, in return for which Disenzano re- 
ceives large quantities of merchandise and metals”. The “above-named 
Country is written Disenzano, but more popularly Desenzano, from the 
Latin word Decentianum”. lb,s 

The actual lakeside did not produce rich harvests, but Desenzano 
was an important grain-market, perhaps the most flourishing, supplied 
as it was by the farmers of the very fertile lands of Cremona and Mantua, 
and given also its favourable position on the commercial route leading to 
the region of Trent. Lake Garda abounded in fish, trout, tench, eels, and 
“carpioni”, a special kind of fish, much sought after for the tables of 
wealthy Brescians. 

1 Faino, “Note varie” in Miscellanea, op. cit., BQ, ms.K.VI.l, f.l46r-v. 

Ib " “Disenzano e terra annoverata fra le principalissime della Riviera di Brescia, paese tanto favorito 
dalla natura, che non invidia l’eccellenza delle piu felice costiere... emporio di tutta la detta Riviera, 
la quale nella parte Bresciana comprende solamente communi n.37, cioe terre principali che, quali 
colonie, tengono a loro compartitamente soggette 140 ville tutte benissimo habitate. L’ho chiamata 
emporio, perche in questa, che e situata sul passo di Vinegia, citta dominante da cui e distante miglia 
98, ... si fa massa di grani, li quali usciti dalle feracissime campagne del Cremonese, et Mantovano in 
specie, passano a nodrire molte popolatissime valli; dalle quali riceve infinite merci e mettalli”. La 
“Patria sodetta si scrive Disenzano, et piu volgarmente Desenzano, dalli latini scritta Decentianum”. 


Further inland, on the other hand, there were numerous vineyards 
and olive-groves, but the principal wealth of this region came from 
making paper and linen. The yarn fabricated at Salo was especially 

In the time of Angela, the town of Desenzano was bustling with all 
the excitement of activities and exchanges, while further out in the coun- 
try, rural activities were carried on, which made their own contribution, 
albeit a modest one, to the local economy. 

It is in a rural setting, surrounded by fields, that we will see Angela 
Merici’s family living. 


Information about Angela Merici’s family comes to us from differ- 
ent sources. For more than two centuries, it was provided by oral tradi- 
tion; this tradition was then gathered together in the printed works, 
which for various reasons, sometimes allowed questionable conclusions 
to slip in. 

But the procedures for the canonical processes for Angela’s beatifi- 
cation and canonisation, and perhaps even more, the plan to publish a 
biography of a historical nature, made it necessary to go on searching at 
a deeper level through the careful analysis of public and private docu- 

By the time the second half of the 18th century had been reached, it 
was not an easy task, without the aid of adequate records of births, mar- 
riages and deaths, to discover when the Mericis had moved to Desenzano, 
presumably somewhere between 1450 and 1470. Nor was it easy to re- 
construct the history of Angela’s reputation for sanctity, upon which the 
process had to be based. These various inquiries took place chiefly at 
Desenzano, and at Verona, the seat of the diocese to which Desenzano 
belonged. In charge of the inquiries was a Capuchin, Father Francesco 
Andreis, who like Angela, was a native of Desenzano. 

For two years already he had been kept busy working for the proc- 
ess of beatification, in tasks not clearly defined, when on 18 August 
1757, his father minister general, Fra Serafino, wrote from Rome con- 
ferring on him “the full merit of holy obedience to continue with the 
task”, and authorising him also to move to Verona and elsewhere, ac- 
cording to the requirements of the Cause which had just begun. 

On 2 November 1757, Signora Lelia Malvezzi, mother general and 
superior of the Company of St Ursula at Brescia, in her turn appointed 
him special Procurator of the Process which had been set up by the 


bishop of Verona, in Verona as well as in Desenzano. She gave him 
power of attorney countersigned by the notary Angelo Facconi. The friar’s 
task was now clearly defined: to go through ancient documents in search 
of signs of the public veneration paid to Angela, and then to make suit- 
able extracts from them . 2 

a) The Mericis 

Father Francesco from Desenzano had not restricted his enquiries 
to the renown and cult enjoyed by Angela Merici, but had also tried to 
collect together every possible bit of information about the family. He 
was in touch with Father Girolamo Lombardi, the Jesuit who would lat- 
er write the biography of the future Beata, and this contact gave rise to a 
fruitful correspondence. 

Some letters in the General Archives of the Ursulines of the Roman 
Union , 3 and others in the Archives of the Patriarchal Seminary of Ven- 
ice , 4 bear witness to the diligence with which the Capuchin pursued his 
search. However, the information they contain is disappointing today 
because the documentation attached to the letters, which Father Fran- 
cesco had collected together, sent to Rome, and received back, as was 
the accepted practice, has gone astray. We draw special attention to the 
Memorie manoscritte intorno alle due Famiglie Biancosi e Merici, tratte da docu- 
menti originali ed autentici , which Lombardi says he was able to consult, 
adding that he had found some very useful information in it . 5 

Father Francesco had met with some considerable difficulties from 
the Mericis who were then living at Darfo, in Valcamonica, and who 
claimed family ties with Angela Merici through one of their ancestors 
with the name Merico. The Capuchin wrote: “They profess to be directly 
descended from Giovanni Merico, father of Blessed Angela ... through a 
Merico Merici, son of the same Giovanni; they have burnt all the papers 
which spoke about Desenzano ”. 6 We can think of no satisfactory expla- 
nation as to why the Mericis at Darfo took such drastic steps to repudi- 
ate the documentation which linked them to Desenzano, while acknowl- 
edging that they were descended from that branch. 

2 APC. Vat. 340, ff.9v-10r. 

3 AGUUR, Bd. Francesco da Desenzano. 

4 ASPV, Sala Monico, XXa. ms.786, 4. 

5 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.2, n.(a). 

6 Letter dated 6 September 1758. ASPV, Sala Monico XXa, ms.786, 4. “Pretendono la ditta discen- 
denza da Giovanni Merico padre della Beata... per via d’un Merico Merici, figlio del medesimo Gio- 
vanni; hanno bruciato tutte le carte che parlavano di Desenzano”. According to the genealogical tree 
of Darfo, there was, in fact, a Merico among the sons attributed to Giovanni Merici. 


It was precisely during Father Francesco’s enquiry in 1758 that they 
vindicated their descent, backing their claim by producing a family-tree, 
from which Lombardi 7 produced the following first part: 

Gio. Merici 

Gio. Maria Lodovico Merico B. Angela 

Gio. Battista Gio. Antonio 

Gio. Maria Quinto Merico Gio. Angelo Gio. Antonio Lodovico 

Father Francesco adds that these Mericis, in addition to basing their 
claim on the family-tree and on tradition, also boasted of having in their 
possession “two ancient pictures of Blessed Angela painted against a 
background of shining rays; one of these they keep in the house, the 
other is displayed in the parish church [of Darfo], beside the altar which 
they have had made themselves”. 8 

Paolo Guerrini, in his turn, with regard to these Mericis at Darfo, 
gives two acts of sale drawn up by the notary Giorgio Celeri, dated the 6 
and 26 April 1528. In the first one, an Antonio de Imerigho da Pranda- 
glio figures as a witness, and in the second, an Antonio fu Giovanni de 
Imericis da Prandaglio. This would be the same person, who had settled 
at Darfo after leaving Prandaglio. 9 

Father Andreis came up against other difficulties, this time more 
understandable, on the part of the local administration of Desenzano. He 
refers to these himself in a letter dated 6 September 1758 to an unknown 
addressee. “I have put pressure on the gentlemen at Desenzano to search 
for some information; but ... they have not even been able to find the 
monuments [documents] anterior to 1600; with forthright insistence, I 
have had to search for them myself, and found them, thanks to a miracle 
of Blessed Angela, in the aforesaid books of the community ...”. 10 

7 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.7, n.(e). 

8 Cf. supra, note 6. “due antiche pitture della Beata Angela dipinte coi raggi; una delle quali la con- 
servano in casa, l’altra la tengono esposta in chiesa parrocchiale al lato di un altare da loro fatto 

9 Guerrini, La Compagnia , in S. Angela, op. cit., p.87. 

10 Letter of 6 September 1758, cf. supra, n.6. “Ho pressati i signori di Desenzano accio ricerchino 


These documents were scattered during the incursions and wars 
which took place in the following centuries, and therefore we do not 
know what Father Francesco had discovered, apart from the little that 
Lombardi was able to tell us about them. The fact remains that the re- 
search, if there was any, which followed the efforts of Father Francesco, 
does not seem to have added anything to what was known about Angela 

Monsignor Paolo Guerrini picked up the threads again and tried to 
discover the origins of the Merici family by going through the “polizze 
d’estimo” of the city of Brescia, 11 but he does not appear to have made 
any systematic search through the papers at Desenzano. 

Analysing the tax-lists of Brescia in 1416, he made the discovery 
that there were two Mericis in this city: 

- “Imericus magister sellarius in Quadra Citadellae”, a master-saddler 
who did not have sufficient means to pay the required contribution to 
the commune to maintain his rank as a noble (“inter nobiles qui dati fue- 
runt in mutis communium Brixiae die 1 Aprilis 1411 quia inventi fuerunt 
non satis dedisse”); 

— “Bertolinus Imerici in Nibolento”, who likewise did not have his 
name inscribed on the rolls of nobility listed in the “Quadre” of the city 
(“inter nobiles in terris brixianis qui non sunt in Quadris descripti”). 12 

In the declarations for the years 1430-1434, in addition to these two 
“Imerici”, Guerrini found a third, a “Zaninus Aymerici in Bassano”. 13 

According to Guerrini, this last-named could well have been Ange- 
la’s great-grandfather. A communal decision of 21 February 1430 14 had 
granted Brescian citizenship to this Zaninus (Giovannino) and to all his 

The document is missing which might explain the possible relation- 
ship between this Zaninus and at least one of the two mentioned above, 
Imerico or Bertolino. 

Our own research has its place at this point, although it is far from 
exhausting the subject. 

To track down some possible information about civil status, we had 
to consult, in the Archivio Antico Comunale of Desenzano, certain reg- 
isters containing the decisions of the city Council, land-registers when 

qualche notizia; ma... neppure sono stati capaci di ritrovare i monument! dentro il 1600; ma ho 
dovuto io, con franca importunita, ricercarli, e ritrovati per miracolo della Beata nei suddetti libri 
della comunita...”. 

11 Guerrini, / M Compagnia , in S, Angela, op. cit., pp. 79-88. 

12 ASC, C.II.434, ff.35 and 127, in Guerrini, ibid., p.80. 

13 ASC, C.I1.434 1/2, n.6 and 7, in Guerrini, ibid. 

14 ASC, Libro delle Provvisioni, C.VI.485, f.35v, in Guerrini, ibid, pp.80-81. 


they exist, and the Libro I delle R asse, which we have already introduced 
briefly. 15 

We embarked on our own search, starting from Libro D, 16 which 
begins in 1468. Here for the first time we met a Carlo Merici da Nuvo- 
lento, who could be connected perhaps, in direct or collateral line, with 
the “Bertolinus Imerici in Nibolento” discovered by Guerrini: an impov- 
erished nobleman, a Brescian citizen who was not living “in Quadris”, 
but precisely at Nuvolento. We were not able to establish any family re- 
lationship he might have had with the Giovanni Merici of Desenzano, 
who also had come from Nuvolento, and whose name recurs frequently 
in the “rasse”. Carlo’s name appears in connection with the usual accusa- 
tions which are repeatedly and generically brought against the residents: 

' causing damages to somebody’s pastures or fields, with two cattle in 
1468, with four in 1480. On 3 March 1469 he had been denounced, this 
time for having taken and transported stones in a small cart. The accusa- 
tion of 25 August 1468 named him as “Carolus Merizi de Nigolento”; in 
later charges no place of origin is given, which means that there is no- 
one of the same name in the district. 

The census of heads of families listed by “colonelli”, 17 which was 
carried out between 21 November and the end of December 1484, 18 
names him among the fully-qualified members of the Commune; this 
means that - having spent the prescribed number of years residing in the 
city 19 - he had been granted citizenship of it. In 1479 both Carlo Merici 
and a son are charged in one of the usual “rasse”, but the son’s name is 
not given. The loss of a number of the documents of this period pre- 
vented us from possibly identifying him later on. 

At first the frequency of so many accusations against the residents is 
surprising and rather disconcerting. However, one needs to set them 
within the structural context of that time, whether official or private, and 
to consider some aspects of country life in that part of North Italy in 
order to judge the real significance of the “rasse”. 

On one side we have a kind of communal institution, namely that of 
the “campari”, public officials acting as rural wardens of the peace, re- 

15 Cf. supra, Pt.l, Ch.I, l.a. 

16 AACD, Reg.n.4. 

17 The “colonelli” was the name given to both the administrative units into which the population of 
Desenzano was divided, and also to those in charge of these divisions. And the word “colonelli” (or 
more commonly “colonelle”) will take its place in Nlerician literature as the title of the area superiors 
in the primitive Company. 

18 AACD, Reg.n.8, Liber Provisionum H, ff.51v-52v. 

19 We were not able to find the “Statuti” of the Commune of Desenzano, so we cannot say precisely 
how long a period of residence was stipulated to obtain citizenship. 


sponsible for seeing that boundaries and the rights of both common and 
private property are respected. 

On the other side, we have a division of property which did not fa- 
cilitate such a respect. The hinterland round Desenzano did not cover 
extensive areas; landed properties tended to be split up, parcelled out as 
they were between land-owners, metayers and tenant-farmers. The fact, 
too, that boundary-lines between the properties were seldom clearly 
defined, made trespassing easy; people did it unknowingly and 
inadvertently, especially those who did not know what the local custom 
was (as could be the case with new people moving into the region or 
children). It usually ended up with some infringement of the law, which 
certainly would not escape the “campari”. 

Sometimes the “right of passage” was allowed along narrow paths, 
barely distinguishable, which separated one property from another, or 
even within the property itself. Countryfolk, accustomed to taking ad- 
vantage of anything that came their way, used to pick up or gather 
everything they found by the roadside or on the track: medicinal and 
edible herbs, dry branches, chestnuts or other fruit which had fallen on 
the path. If by ill luck they fell into the hands of the vigilant “campari” 
or the owners of the land being crossed, it was difficult for them to 
prove afterwards where these things had come from. “Campari” and 
landowners used to bring in charges of theft or at least of damages: 
“dampnificavit...”. Sometimes the accused succeeded in proving that the 
charge was groundless, and then the charge would be lifted and the 
threat of a fine removed, but even so, the accusation remained written in 
the records. 

Then there was another kind of charge which came under the head- 
ing of “dampnificavit”, the trespassing of cattle being led to pasture. Giv- 
en their relatively modest size, the individual properties offered a rather 
restricted area for pasturage and for passage. Goats especially used to es- 
cape easily from custody, stripping the branches of leaves, nibbling away 
at the hedges and crops. Taking advantage of the herdsman having a nap 
or weaving baskets or panniers, cattle also used to wander easily over the 
boundaries, escaping from the pasture assigned to them. The “rassa”, 
communicated officially, fell on the head of the family, reminding him of 
his duty and imposing a fine on him. 

Whether they were true or false, the “rasse”, prompted by a scrupu- 
lous sense of duty or by some less noble sentiment, used to rain down 
pitilessly on those accused. Their official recording, however, enables us 
to extract, even if only very approximately, some information about the 
family of Giovanni Merici, up to 1492. In that year there is a break in the 


series of Libri delle Rasse, as we have already said. And it is about this 
period that the Merici family broke up. 

b) Relatives at Said 

All Angela Merici’s biographers are in agreement that the family on 
her mother’s side were from Salo and that their surname was Biancosi. 
Doctor Jacopo Alberti of Salo, in the “Memorie” which he collected to- 
gether at the time of the processes of beatification and canonisation, 
states that Angela’s mother was called “Biancosa Biancosi”. 20 Lombardi 
passed on this detail, perhaps simply because he was a conscientious col- 
lector, but it did not have much support. 

We went through the registers of the Archivio Antico del Comune 
of Salo in search of traces of this Biancosi family, with only one reliable 
piece of information at our disposal: Antonio Romano had given “Barto- 
lomeo Biancosi” as the name of Angela’s first cousin. 

Father Francesco Andreis of Desenzano affirms, in a letter of 4 Au- 
gust 1758, 21 that the Biancosi family was related to the noble Bertazzolis 
and Tracagnis (there are variations of this name: Tracchagni, Tracagno, 
Treccani) of Salo, but he does not indicate in which epoch. 

During our search through some of the Libri Ordinamentorum of 
Salo, in other words the registers of decisions taken in the 15th century, 
and also in some of the declarations of goods at that time, we came 
across some Bertazzolis (Tomaso, Tomasino, Bertazzolo) and some 
Tracagnos (Bernardino, for example), but no Biancosis. It is true that 
there are big gaps, sometimes of several decades, between the dates of 
the various Registri dell’Estimo (which are numbered in unbroken consec- 
utive order in the list in the Archivio del Comune), and that during 
these years family units could have been formed or dissolved in various 
ways. Nevertheless, this complete absence of the Biancosis puzzled us. 

Finally we discovered, in the Land-Register of 1524, 22 the declara- 
tion of goods of a certain “ser Bartholomeus et frater, quondam ser 
Blanchosii de Blanchis”, in other words, a Bartolomeo and one of his 
brothers, sons of the late ser Biancoso de Bianchi. They owned various 
landed property, including one in the district of San Bernardino, which 
was adjacent to that belonging to a certain “Alovisius de Morosis”, and 
their own house of habitation, situated in the district of the “piazzetta di 
San Giovanni”. 

20 Lombardi, Vila, op. cit., p.l, note (c). 

21 ASPV, Sala Monico XXa, ms.786, 4. 

22 AACS, Extimus MDXXI11I, f.66r. 



Among the declarations in the Land-Register Catastico del Estimo 
Generate del anno 1578, we find the name of a Bartolomeo Biancosi who 
had died leaving an inheritance as yet undivided, to be shared by the 
“Heredi di Bartolomeo Bianchos”. 23 Among the property declared by the 
heirs there was a house in stonework, with a tiled roof, in the San Ber- 
nardino district, and adjoining the property belonging to the heirs of 
“Aloviso Moroso”: it is the same place, with the same boundary as one 
of the properties declared by ser Bartolomeo fu Biancoso de Bianchi in 
1524. One can conclude from this that Bartolomeo fu Biancoso de Bian- 
chi and Bartolomeo Biancosi, Angela’s cousin, are one and the same per- 
son, who has now finally adopted the surname “Biancoso” (or “Bian- 
cosi”). And this is the name which biographers will ascribe a posteriori 
to the maternal side of Angela’s family. 

In the same Catastico of 1578 there is yet another Biancoso, ser 
Girardo, who declares his property: 24 would he be related perhaps? 
This suggests a line of enquiry to follow through and a hypothesis to be 

Bartolomeo’s father - Angela’s uncle - must therefore have been 
called Biancoso de Bianchi, and had the title “ser” (probably a notary). 
He was also a member of the Town-Council of Salo, as one can gather 
from the register of the deliberations and decisions covering the years 
1500- 15 16. 25 Going through the long lists of town-councillors, we no- 
ticed that only a very few names are prefixed by the title “ser”. Biancoso 
always features there as “ser Blanchosus de Blanchis”. 

And since the Christian name of his sister (who we think is the Ca- 
terina, wife of Giovanni, mentioned in the “rasse” of Desenzano) was 
one of the most widespread at that time, it would have been the usual 
village custom to find another surname for her, to distinguish her from 
any of her namesakes. Thus, Caterina Bianchi, sister of “ser Biancoso”, 
in all probability became “Caterina la Biancosa”. This would support in 
some way what Jacopo Alberti had stated, that Angela’s mother was 
called Biancosa. 

As for the collateral kinship with the Bertazzolis and the Tracagnis, 
which Lombardi believes must be dated after Angela Merici’s time, 26 we 
did not follow through any line of enquiry, as the question lay outside 
our field of interest. However, among the Bertazzolis we will meet Ste- 

2J Cf. AACS, Catastico del Estimo Generate , ff.5v and 36r. 

24 Ibid, f.33r. 

25 AACS, Liber Ordinamentorum n.8, passim. We did not take our search any further. 

26 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.1-3 and 59-60. 


fano, the elegant young man who changed his way of life after a conver- 
sation with Angela and became a priest. According to his “polizza 
d’estimo”, which we found in the Archivio Storico Civico di Brescia, 27 
he would have been 64 years old in 1568. His meeting with Angela must 
have taken place, therefore, in 1520 at the earliest. Cistellini, speaking of 
him, presents him as an indecisive person, incapable of generous resolu- 
tions, but nevertheless in contact with some eminent spiritual men. 28 

We will also meet Doctor Tracagno, Angela’s nephew according to 
some authors, who came to visit his ageing relative. Even before he 
knocked at the door, Angela had known who it was and had given an 
order for the door to be opened to welcome him. Bellintani, Gondi and 
Doneda 29 all recount this episode, and it will be cited frequently during 
the processes as evidence of the gift of prophecy which God had be- 
stowed on Angela. 

Rather than allow ourselves to be caught up in a discussion on the 
family ties between Doctor Tracagno and the Mericis, let us just point 
out that, in that region, the cousins of parents are often called “uncle” or 
“aunt” out of respect, especially when there is a notable difference of 
age. Doneda in his time had already noted this fact. 30 This could explain 
the title of “nephew” given to Tracagno, without making it necessary to 
suppose that a sister of Angela had married a Tracagno of Said, as some 
authors have believed. He could have been just a young cousin. 

c) Giovanni Merici 

In our section on the enquiries undertaken by Father Francesco of 
Desenzano, we anticipated when we said that the official acts and the reg- 
isters of the public administration could well yield richer information 
than the oral and written testimonies presented to the Capuchin by the 
relatives of the Saint or by those devoted to her. 

Thus our search in the Archivio Antico Comunale of Desenzano, 
in particular among the registers which deal more closely with everyday 
life in the country, enabled us to meet the Mericis. 

First of all, in 1468, there is the “Carolus Merizi de Nigolento”, 
whom we have already mentioned; 31 then, frequently after 1475, a “Jo- 
hannes Merici”, with his place of origin given only twice, “de Maner- 

27 PE, n.17. “Stefano Bertazzuoli de Rossi, prete in Salo”. 

28 Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., p.106 and passim. 

29 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[10]; Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p.26; Doneda, Vita, op. 
cit., p.68 and p. 144, n.44. 

50 Doneda, Ibid., pp.28-29. 

31 Cf. supra, 2.a. 


ba” 32 in 1484, and “de Nigolento” in I486. 33 

The fact that, up to 1492, nothing else is generally added to Gio- 
vanni Merici’s name, would seem to prove that he was the only one with 
this name in the region. We will meet him, in answer to summons, either 
directly or in connection with his children or wife. Would this be Ange- 
la’s family? Knowing for certain that her father was called Giovanni, as 
this is written in the attested act of Angela’s election in 1537, 34 we have 
good grounds for believing so. 

Our first meeting with Giovanni Merici thus goes back to 1475. He 
did not come from Desenzano, but had moved there, we do not know 
exactly in which year. Then, according to the “provvisione” or commu- 
nal decision of 27 September 1475, he had been accepted by word of 
mouth among the members of this Commune. In the “Repertorio” of the 
decisions to accept strangers among the citizens of the Commune there is 
the entry: “Zuan Merico. Accettation in Comune di Zuan Merico, altre 
volte acetato a boccha per li elletti, conforme le provisioni 27 setembrio 
1475. L[ibro] I, f.75”. 35 

This entry is found written among other acceptances which took 
place between 1486 and 1489, and to be more precise, after a resolution 
of 22 January 1487. Thus, it must be presumed that the verbal accept- 
ance of 1475 was only ratified in the period 1487-1489. We have further 
proof of this in the 1484 census which gives the list of the heads of fami- 
lies grouped together by “colonello”. Carlo Merici, who had already be- 
come a full member of the Commune, is there; “Zuan de Merigo” is also 
there, but among the “strangers”. 

We searched in vain for the Libro delle 'Provisioni which should have 
contained the record of the council-meeting mentioned by the Repertorio , 
and which originally was classified under the letter T. The book cannot 
be found, and this made it impossible to collect together any other infor- 
mation about what went on at this meeting of 27 September 1475. 

It is not at all clear how Professor Carlo Brusa, an expert in the 
documents of Desenzano, was able to let Guerrini 36 know one day that 
Giovanni Merici had been officially accepted at the meeting of the 
General Council in 1475, and that in the Libro delle Vicinie there was a 
clear statement of his earlier verbal acceptance by the “eletti” (that is, by 

32 AACD, Reg.n.8, Liber Provisionum H, f.26r. 

33 Ibid., f.230r. 

34 D6. 

35 AACD, Libro I di tutte le Parti, Ordeni e Provisioni de l Sp. Comune di Desenzano, delt anno 1464 princi- 
piato, Reg.n.32, f.41 sinistro. 

36 Guerrini, La Compagnia, op. cit., p.82, note 6. 


the deputies “ad civilitates”). Here again, verification is impossible 
because this book is also lost. 

The “Vicinie” were a council of “estimated” heads of families, in 
other words, they were subject to taxation. Their General Council, con- 
sisting of forty members, elected a Special Council of twelve members 
each year, and these were the “eletti”, who took it in turns to exercise 
the function of consul for a month. The Council of the “Vicinie” must 
have had some reasons for supporting the request for citizenship submit- 
ted by Giovanni Merici, but nothing is said about the date. 

Although Giovanni had now become a citizen of Desenzano, this 
newly acquired status did not make him forget his former Brescian citi- 
zenship, handed down to him probably by an ancestor who had obtained 
it for himself and for his direct descendants, and which was still a title 
of prestige. 

In fact, the attested act of 1537 37 states that Angela is the daughter 
of the late “Johannis de Mericis, olim civis et habitatoris Brixiae”, 
thereby recognising her father’s status as “a former citizen of Brescia”. 
This still leaves unanswered the question of the privilege of actually hav- 
ing lived in Brescia. It would seem to imply a period of residence at 
Brescia, then a period at Nigolento (today Nuvolento), from where 
Carlo had also come, and finally, the move to Desenzano in some year 
before 1475, the date of his verbal acceptance. Citizenship, in fact, was 
only granted after a certain number of years of residence in the place. 
What reasons could have been behind these successive moves? Any con- 
jecture put forward could well be proved false later, so we will refrain 
from formulating any. 

Father Francesco of Desenzano has left us a little information, al- 
though rather vague, about the economic situation of the Merici family. 
According to what Lombardi says 38 the Capuchin had been able to con- 
sult the books of taxes and communal tax-collections for the years 1517, 
1526, 1529, 1530 and 1556, which included the payments made by An- 
gela and by other Merici kinsmen. From these entries he had deduced 
that “at that time the Merici family at Desenzano enjoyed quite a good 
income”. Unfortunately, from time immemorial these communal tax- 
books have been lost, and they are no longer listed in the inventory of 
the local archives (Archivio Antico Comunale of Desenzano). This loss 
makes it impossible for us to have any idea what the Merici patrimony 
consisted of after Angela’s return to Desenzano and after her departure 

37 D6. 

38 Lombardi, I 'it a, op. cit., p.3, note (a). 


from there to settle in Brescia. A study of inheritance declarations would 
possibly bring to light the property owned by Giovanni Merici at the 
end of the 15th century. 

We found, however, the Regis tro dell’ Esti mo of 1523, 39 a register 
which up to now has escaped the notice of researchers, and even of Fa- 
ther Francesco. On f. 16v, there are two lines containing Angela’s decla- 
ration. From this entry we learn that she was the owner, in her own 
name, of a property, the size of which is not mentioned (it never is in 
these declarations), but the location is given, together with the fact that 
the land is cultivated and is planted with vineyards. The tax that had to 
be paid was five “lire planete”: “Sur Merizi habet petiam terrae aratoriae 
vidatae in contrata Caser a monte Zorzo Monte, a sero Petrus Domigo. 
Lire 5”. 40 

But even if, for the time being, we have no information about the 
property which may have belonged to Giovanni Merici, at least the 
“rasse” give us some idea, however approximate, of the socio-economic 
situation of the family. We will examine some of these “rasse” in the next 
section of this chapter. 

It is the “rasse” again which will give us some concrete details 
about the composition of Giovanni Merici’s household. 

Regarding the location of the Merici dwelling, so far we have not 
found any document of the period which provides reliable information. 
According to a long tradition, still alive in Desenzano, the Merici family 
lived in two different houses: one of these, at the foot of the castle, 
would have been where Angela was born; the other, at the Grezze, was 
where the children would have grown up. In support of this second 
house there are frequent references in the “rasse” to the fields of the 
“Machetto”, a place not far from the Grezze, where the children would 
be caught out in some of their misdemeanours. 

The house where Angela was born, therefore, would have been in 
the present Via del Castello, at no. 96 (formerly 333), and this tradition is 
supported by some evidence which turned up at the beginning of this 
century. In a note which he sent to Monsignor Guerrini, Professor Brusa 

59 AACD, Reg.n.56. 

* D 14. Pianet, pianetto, pianette: Brescian coins which were flat (moneta piatta) in contrast to ear- 
lier coins which had been concave (scudellata). The “lira di planet” had double the value of the Ve- 
netian lira, and in 1518 and 1520 it was one and a half times the value of the Milanese denaro Cf. 
EDOARDO MARTINONI, La moneta , Vocabolario generale, Multigrafica editrice, Roma 1977. Only 
some years later a gold ducat or “zecchino”, which was worth 6 lire and 4 soldi in Venice, was 
worth between 3.2 and 3.8 lire in Brescia. Donkda, Notice della Zecca e delle monete di Brescia , ediz. 2 a 
corredata di note ed accresciuta della Tavola delle Monete e di una nuova Cronaca da Guid’Antonio 
Zanetti, Bologna, nella Stamperia di Lelio della Volpe, 1786, p.62. 


(already mentioned) states that Angela was born in a room on the first 
floor, the first on the left mounting the staircase. It was an inner room 
and opened out on to a balcony on the east. On one of the walls, in a 
niche, was an epigraph recalling the happy event that had taken place 
there. The veracity of this little memorial, according to Brusa, was cor- 
roborated by the statements of two daughters of Giovanni Polver, who 
used to live there. Their father remembered having seen this inscription 
when he was still a youth. Polver’s two daughters had also heard the tra- 
dition confirmed by the lawyer, Giovanni Cantarini, who in his turn had 
heard his father speak about it. 41 

In 1930, Cecylja tubienska also had gathered the same information 
from Erminia Polver, who was then the local superior of the Company 
of St Ursula at Desenzano. 42 

On the buttress of the castle at Desenzano overlooking the Via Ca- 
stello, opposite the house, a commemorative plaque was set up on 7 May 
1961: “St Angela Merici - Foundress of the Company of St Ursula 
— died in Brescia the 27 January 1540 at the presumed age of 66 years — 
was born in the house opposite — in the room on the north-west of the 
first floor”. 43b,s 

There are no documents giving information about births and 
deaths, so biographers relied on a page in the chronicle of Pandolfo Nas- 
sino, who had said that she died at an age between 65 and 70 years, to es- 
tablish Angela’s year of birth. 43 Faino, at first uncertain, finally adopted 
1474 as the year of Angela’s birth, without giving any documentary 
evidence or reason for his choice. 44 It was almost by general tacit consent 
that the year 1474, as proposed by him, was accepted and introduced 
into Merician historiography. 

Biographers are not in agreement over the number of children Gio- 
vanni Merici had, nor do they know where to place them time-wise. Ro- 
mano had learnt from Angela herself that she had a sister (an older sister 
according to the biographers); from the “rasse” we learn that there were 
certainly two brothers, and possibly even three. This would give some 
support to the family-tree of the Mericis of Darfo, published by Lom- 
bardi and reproduced by us earlier. 

This portion of the genealogical tree, however, seems to have been 

41 GUERRINI, La Compagnia, op. cit., p.82, n.6. 

42 LUBIESlSKA, Sw. Aniela, op. cit., p.58, n.2. 

42 b " “Sant’ Angela Merici - Fondatrice della Compagnia di Sant’Orsola morta in Brescia il 27 gen- 
naio 1540 nella presunta eta di anni 66 nacque nella casa qui a fronte nella stanza a nord-ovest 
del primo piano”. 

43 D7. 

44 Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.9. 


drawn from memory, with a certain ignorance of the norms of geneal- 
ogy. The other daughter, in fact, does not feature, and yet there is no 
doubt about her existence. She is missing probably because she had died 
young. Having said this, the fact that Angela’s name was written at the 
end could well be because she was a girl, as was usually done in the “po- 
lizze d’estimo”, and not because she was the last-born. 

d) Everyday life 

The few meagre autobiographical details related by Angela herself, 
have come down to us through the accounts of a few very close friends: 
Antonio Romano, Agostino Gallo, Don Giacomo Tribesco. 

About her childhood, her family surroundings, her life at home, 
they tell us very little, practically nothing. However, we do learn from 
them that when Angela was young, she listened eagerly to what her fa- 
ther used to read aloud, and that she gradually allowed her whole life to 
be modelled and orientated by those readings. 

What they were, no-one has said. Thanks to the spread of printing 
during the last part of the 15th century, it could have been the Imitation 
of Christ or the Golden Legend. Angela would tell Antonio Romano that 
when she was a litle girl of five, she used to listen to her father reading 
“spiritual books about Saints and Virgins”, and that she had then begun 
to lead a spiritual life made up of contemplation and penance. 45 

In his Golden Legend , Jacopo da Voragine had devoted many pages 
to the feasts of Christ and of the Madonna, of the first martyrs, of the 
Fathers of the Church ... The adventures of Christ’s heroes, recounted 
with a simple faith and easy to read, were edifying and interesting. On all 
the ferial days of Advent and Lent there was a good, solid meditation, 
and this made the book a kind of treatise of the spiritual life, from which 
it was easy to draw moral applications. It was probably the best-known 
book of that time and, with the Bible and the Imitation of Christ , it helped 
to nourish the faith and piety of generations of Christians. Printed in 
Venice for the first time in 1474 and translated into the vernacular, the 
Golden Legend had already gone through eleven successive editions in that 
city alone before the end of the century. But could it, within the space 
of so few years, have reached the hands of Giovanni Merici? Given the 
rapidity of the successive reprintings and the facility of exchanges with 
Venice, it is certainly possible. 

It was probably in the evening that Giovanni Merici used to read 

45 Processo Na^ari. D16. 


the lives of Saints to the little family gathered round him. Evenings in 
the villages, especially in winter — right up to the first decades of this 
century — were usually spent by the fireside or in the stable, where there 
was a little heat from the animals and light from an oil-lamp suspended 
from a rafter. While the women would shuttle their spindle to and fro in 
their never-ending spinning or do their mending, the men used to repair 
their farming-tools or busy themselves with other jobs in preparation for 
the sowing or the harvest - all this against a background of quiet domes- 
tic chatter. What a blessing it was if someone knew how to read and 
fill the long evening hours with tales of martyrs and saints, while the 
children were carried away into a dream-world, surrounded by angels’ 
wings, palms, crowns and splendours. 

According to Faino, Giovanni Merici had an educational purpose in 
mind: “Giovanni ... knowing that the Lord attracts many to a holy life 
and to founding famous Religions through the reading of Saints’ lives, 
as for example, a St Augustine reading the life of St Anthony Abbot, 
Bl. Giovanni Colombino the life of St Mary the Egyptian, St Ignatius 
Loyola and others, used to read the lives of Saints in the presence of his 
family ...”. 46 Mention here of St Ignatius is certainly out of place, because 
Giovanni could not have known about Ignatius of Loyola, who was 
born only in 1491. However, Faino makes him appear in his writing here 
so as to give additional force to his argument about the efficacy of good 
readings. Gondi introduces the same idea, but with more circumspec- 
tion: “We know that the Lord has attracted many founders and fathers 
of famous Religions through the reading of the lives of Saints, such as 
St Augustine reading the life of St Antony ...”. 47 

Expressed in these terms, Gondi’s remark is incontrovertible, 
whereas Faino allowed himself to be carried away by the idea which had 
occurred to him. At any rate, the evidence of Antonio Romano and 
Agostino Gallo is more than enough to establish a close link between the 
readings Angela heard from her father and the urge she felt to “devote 
herself to a sober, spiritual and contemplative life”. 48 

Such was the atmosphere of the evenings, but during the day both 
adults and children were caught up and involved in all the demands and 

46 FAINO, Vita, op. cit., pp. 10-11: “Giovanni... sapendo ch’il Signore ha tirato molti alia vita della 
santita, ed a fondare famose Religioni con la lettura delle vite de Santi, come un sant’ Agostino leg- 
gendo la vita di sant’Antonio abbate, il beato Giovanni Colombino la vita di santa Maria Egittiaca, 
sant’Ignatio Loiola, e altri, leggeva alia presenza della sua famiglia le vite de Santi...”. 

47 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p. 17: “sappiamo che molti institutori e padri di famose Religioni il Signore 
ha tirati con la lettione della vita de Santi, come sant’ Agostino leggendo la vita di sant’ Antonio...”. 

48 Processo Na^ari, D16. 


difficulties of real life. It was often a hard existence, in which work re- 
placed play for children; but then sometimes play would get the upper 
hand, with all the inherent risk of overstepping the boundaries laid 
down by duty, laws and prescriptions. This can be seen from the warn- 
ings and the penalties written down in the recorded “rasse”. In fact, it 
is these documents which we discovered that prompt us to return once 
more to the subject of the economic situation of the Mericis. 

Let us recall, first of all, some of the opinions which have become 
codified, as it were: “Angela ... a little peasant-girl by birth” according to 
Landini; 49 Gondi says that her father was “a person of mediocre circum- 
stances in that place”, 50 Faino that “he came from ordinary stock”; 51 
while Doneda says that Angela’s parents were “very ordinary people of 
humble means”. 52 

But neither Bellintani, who really belonged to Salo because his fam- 
ily had moved there when he was young, nor Nazari, who had listened 
to the eye-witnesses, has given any grounds for believing that it was a 
question of a state of poverty. As already stated by Lombardi, after he 
had seen the documentation collected by Father Francesco of Desenzano, 
it was probably more a question of “modest” means, or “mediocre” in 
the etymological meaning of the word - “in the middle” and not with 
the modern, rather pejorative meaning of “slight”, “insufficient”. 

With this point in mind, let us now see what information can be 
gathered from the “rasse”. It is in 1477 that we meet the Merici couple 
for the first time. On 29 May, on his own land in the Machet, Giovanni 
is caught with a goat, thereby incurring a charge; however, the follow- 
ing day the “camparo” gives no detail as to the offence Giovanni was ac- 
cused of, and furthermore, there is no indication of any fine: “Johannes 
Merici bestia 1 caprina in prato suo al Machet die 29 per suprascriptum 
camparium. Et datum 30”. 53 

On 13 July, his wife Caterina is accused by the “camparo” Mamolo 
of gathering “pizolos” 54 from the field of Andrea de Andreis, and on 12 
August, of picking up some brushwood in the wood near the canal. 55 
The name of the person who brought the charge for this second infringe- 
ment is not given. On 19 August 1478, Giovanni Merici finds himself 

49 D15. 

50 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p.13: “persona in quel luogo di mediocre condizione”. 

51 FAINO, Vita, op. cit., p.8: “uomo di popolar conditione”. 

52 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.28: “genitori di mediocre condizione e di scarse facolta”. 

53 AACD, Liber Provisionum E, reg.n.5, f.87v. Up to 1488 the “rasse” are found with the “provi- 
sioni”. The “Machet” is not far from the Grezze. 

54 Ibid., f. 106v. We were not able to discover the meaning of the word “pizolos”. 

55 Ibid., f. 120r. 


involved in some kind of damage, the details of which are not given; 
however, “solvit denarios de proprio”, 56 in other words, he pays out of 
his own pocket, perhaps even on behalf of others. But these “rasse” are 
so vague that they seem to be inconsistent. We have already mentioned 
how natural it was for the peasant to collect edible herbs or to gather to- 
gether bits of wood from the wayside, and how difficult it was for him 
to exculpate himself if he was accused, by saying exactly where they had 
come from. 

Two “rasse” in 1479 are surprising, at least as much as the first one 
in 1477. On 22 August 1479 “Johannes Merici cum una bestia caprina 
comedenda uvas ex vitis suis ai Lavagni a monte Bertinum de Gatio”. 
The accusation is dated 24 August. 57 And on 16 August a son (this is the 
first time we have met him) had been denounced for having picked 
grapes from his own vineyard two days earlier and for carrying them 
away. 58 The fact that the father and the son were charged with having 
eaten or carried away in a basket their own grapes would seem to 
suggest the existence of special regulations, either to control production 
or to levy custom taxes on the production itself, but no doubt it was easy 
to get round the regulations. These charges, for example, were not 
followed up by any fine. 

However, Giovanni is rightly charged when six of his piglets 
caused damage to a field where some vetch (cicerchia) was growing. It is 
one of those numerous boundary mishaps, but the damage could not 
have been very serious as the fine is only one soldo: “Johannes Merici 
cum bestiis 6 porzinis dampnificavit in ciserciam heredis quondam 
Dominici Gedoni in contrata de Machet die 5 suprascripti [June 1479]; 
acusatus per Martinum Testorem”. 59 The Latin is very poor, both with 
regard to the vocabulary and the syntax; but the “campari” make every 
effort to give precise information regarding the places where the 
damages occurred, giving the name of the place or the name of the 
neighbouring owner, “a sero”, “a mane”, “a monte”, etc. 

As was mentioned earlier, then, a son appeared for the first time in 
the “rasse” of 16 August 1479. He had gone to pick some grapes in the 

56 Ibid., f.218v. 

,7 AACD, Liber Provisionum F, reg.n.6, f. 124v. 

58 Ibid., f.ll9v. 

59 AACD, Liber Provisionum E, reg.n.5, f.294r. Regarding “cicerchia” Agostino Gallo will write: 
“good cooked in soup, and better than rye for mixing with millet in bread-making”. Agostino 
Gallo, Le vinli giornate dell’agricoltura et de piaceri della villa. Nuovamen/e ristampate. Con le figure de gli 
instromenti pertinenti. Et con due tavole, una della dichiaratione di molti vocaboli e r ultra delle cose notabili, in 
Venetia, appresso Camillo Borgominerio, 1584, in 8°, pp.420, tav.10; BQ, 10.Q.IX.9, p.50. 


family vineyard at the Lavagni, and was carrying them home in a basket: 
“portavit alio uvas ex vitiis suis ai Lavagni a monte Johannes Antonius 
14 suprascripti [August] cum cavagno”. The boy must have been at least 
seven to nine years old to have been allowed to go off alone to pick 
grapes for the family. 

Up to nearly the end of 1482, we do not find any more “rasse” 
brought against Giovanni Merici. But among the accusations of 1 No- 
vember mention is made for the first time of a daughter, who has taken 
some “frusconi”, while her brother has cut some twigs and other wood. 
They had also apparently collected some olives at the foot of olive-trees. 
One of the properties where these “thefts” took place was at the Machet, 
“a sero Marolinus”, and the other, “aput paludem a mane et a monte Jo- 
hanna uxor Guidotti”: “Filia Johannis Merici per dictum camparium 
dampnificavit accipiens fruschonos de rasolis Tinelli a Machet 14 su- 
prascripti, a sero Marolinus. Item dampnificavit filius eius incidendo li- 
gnas videlicet zeradallos et alia ligna de quadam teste Anzolini a Machet 
aput paludem a mane et a monte Joanna uxor Guidotti legantes olivas ex 
pedibus olivarum...”. 60 

The vocabulary of those times does not always have an equivalent 
among words in use today, but the “frusconi” is taken to mean the twigs 
and branches of a tree. It is more difficult to identify the “zeradallos”, 
but it is still something connected with wood, either boughs or twigs 
collected for firewood, or even branches to be used as stakes in the gar- 
den to prop up the vegetables and other plants. One can assume that the 
two children had already reached adolescent age if they were carrying 
out this kind of work. 

The zones mentioned in the various “rasse” are generally the 
“Machet”, to the south of the Grezze, which has kept this name; the 
“Lavagni”, the chestnut wood, the marshland, the common wood, none 
of which is easy to identify today. 

It was in the interest of the “campari” to give as much credibility as 
possible to the summons, spelling out in detail those responsible for the 
misdeeds: filius, filia, duo filii et una filia, duo filii masculus et foemina, 
etc. These distinctions help us to build up a fairly accurate picture of 
how the Merici family was composed. 

In 1484, it would seem that a second son entered the game of the 
“rasse”, as on 18 October there is an accusation which very clearly de- 
nounces the “elder son” for having collected and carried home the dung 
from the mules belonging to Giovanni Maioli of the Machet: “Johannes 

60 AACD, Liber Provisionum G, reg.n.7, f.l03r. 


Merici quod filius suus maior dampnificabat accipiendo nititias [manure] 
de mulorum ex domo Johannis Maioli in contrata de Machet et alio as- 
portavit et portavit domum eius die 17 suprascripti [October]. Acusatur 
per Mafeum camparium”. 61 

If it was necessary to distinguish the “elder son”, this means that a 
second son was beginning to be known in the area. And it was perhaps 
this little boy who, on 5 August 1484, together with his sister, was ac- 
cused of picking some grapes from the vegetable-garden of Tomasino da 
Lodi; she had hidden them in her lap (probably in her apron), and he had 
hidden his under his shirt: “Filia Johannis Merici legens in gremio uvas 
Tomasini de Laude al horto ... Filius suprascripti Johannis ut supra in 
sinu acceptans uvas”. 62 It was probably only a bit of childish mischief, 
but the prank would cost two fines of 4 soldi each - no little sum in 
those days! 

Two months earlier, on 31 May, one of the two sons and the 
daughter had been accused of having pulled up the rye in the field of 
another owner: “Duo filii Johannis Merici, masculus et femina, cum 
dampnificaverunt extirpantes et frangentes siliginam Arici Maioli”. 63 
There was another fine of 4 soldi to pay. The “campari” were carrying 
out their duty. 

In the same year 1484, Caterina was accused on 6 August, 64 and 
Giovanni five days later, 65 both for having picked some figs belonging 
to somebody else. For this offence the former was fined 2 soldi and the 
latter 4, but this figure was later corrected; it even looks as if it has been 
replaced by a zero, which would mean that the fine had been cancelled, 
either because the charge had been proved unfounded or, for special 
reasons, the act had been justified. 

And so, throughout the “rasse” of 1484, a girl and two boys appear. 
We know, though, that there were two Merici daughters. For some rea- 
son - age or something - the two girls are not found implicated together 
in breaking the law. 

All the biographers have said that Angela’s sister was the elder of 
the two; she would have been born, therefore, some time between 1470 
and 1473 (assuming that Angela herself was born in 1474). The elder 
brother, whom we met for the first time in 1479, must have been born 
round about the same time. We do not know, though, where to place the 

61 AACD, Liber Provisionum H, reg.n.8, f.38v. 

62 Ibid., f.6r. 

63 AACD, Liber Provisionum G, reg.n.7, f.268v. 

64 AACD, Liber Provisionum H, reg.n.8, f.8r. 

65 Ibid., f.lOr. 


birth of the younger brother. Some time after 1474 seems likely, but this 
is only a hypothesis to which we do not want to give any other weight 
or value than that of a hypothesis. 

In the same register, on 3 July 1485, the two boys are incriminated 
again, this time for having pulled up some “pezolos” and carried them 

As for the “filia”, her name is never given; thus we cannot say 
whether it is Angela herself who is involved here, or her sister, about 
whose eternal salvation she was to be so anxious later. The fact that we 
did not find any “rasse” involving the two sisters together suggests that 
Angela may have had a certain moderating influence on her older sister 
when she was with her, or else she may have stayed at home to do the 
housework or to look after a younger brother, whose existence may be 
inferred from what we will be relating later on. If, on the other hand, the 
two sisters had taken it in turns to go to the pasture-land, the “rasse” 
would have distinguished, at least once or twice, between the “filia 
maior” and the “filia minor”. 

On 1 November 1486, a daughter is accused by the “camparo” 
Maffeo of having transported elsewhere some of the vine-poles from the 
family vineyard: “Jo. Merici quod filia sua alio portabat palos ... de 
vitibus suis ai Lavagni a monte Johannes Antonius ... Item die 28 
suprascripti [October] suprascripta filia dampnificabat incidendo lignas 
de nemore communis Dicentiani a le castagne”. 66 Perhaps the poles had 
been donated by the Commune for some special use, and for that reason 
were not to be moved. This could well have been, as the law was broken 
the moment the poles were transported elsewhere. In addition, the 
young culprit had also cut some wood on the common land. Both these 
tasks required a certain physical force which would have been difficult 
for Angela, given that she was probably not even twelve years old. 
Anyway, the first charge was not followed up, but the second one 
incurred a fine of 3 soldi. 

In 1486, Giovanni Merici begins to appear as owning cattle. On 7 
January his name is put down on the roll of those who have the right to 
pasture on the common land: “de quelli hanno liberta pascolar. Infra- 
scripti sunt qui solvunt pasculum communis Dicentiani pro libris infra 
anotatis pro anno 1486... Zuan de Merigo per una vacha. Soldi 7”. 67 
Thus, he has acquired the right to pasture one cow on the common land. 
Other animals are soon added, but we do not know if these involved any 

66 Ibid., f.289v. 

67 Ibid., f.!92r. 


further official registrations. From the “rasse”, anyway, we learn that 
Giovanni Merici also owned three goats. 68 

Still in the same year, his wife is accused of picking a basketful of 
grapes from the family vineyard at the Lavagni, 69 but once again it is rec- 
ognised that the accusation is unfair and the fine is cancelled. 

Indeed, the zeal of the “campari” often seems to have made them 
overstep the limits of truth: “Johannes Merici acusatur per Betinum 
camparium cum ipse die suprascripti [30 September] dampnificavit inci- 
dendo lignas zaradellorum genestrorum in nemore communis Dicentiani 
al monte de la castagna hora Ave Mariae et asportavit domum. Item ipso 
die tempestive revertit ipse Johannes in ipso nemore dampnificavit inci- 
dendo lignas ut supra”. But there is a note of clarification in the margin: 
“Dixit quod solum incessit unum lignum pro necessitate, et incessit in 
illo Arici Somelli”. 70 

From 1488 onwards, as we have already said, they begin to record 
the “rasse” in a special register. The offences with which the Mericis are 
charged henceforth are mostly related to cattle. On 7 May a son would 
appear to have trespassed with two cattle and four goats on the common 
land, but his father had been able to refute it and the charge was 
dropped. 71 As for the daughter, two days running, she had crossed over 
a field with two cattle: “Johannes Merici quod fillia sua dampnificavit 
cum bestiis 2 bovinis in faciendo transitum per blados Johannis de la 
Pola et crastinum 2 suprascripti [November] per suprascriptum campa- 
rium”. 72 No fine is indicated in the margin. 

In 1489 the economic situation of the Mericis must have been quite 
good, judging from the accusation of 3 June which mentions three cattle 
and four goats, 73 and the “rassa” of 10 June which accuses Giovanni of 
ploughing his land, on a feast-day, with no less than seven people: “In- 
frascripti omnes denuntiati fuerunt per Cristoforum de Franzonibus la- 
borantes ut infra, die suprascripti festum Sancti Defensoris: ... Zuan de 
Merigo a fat zapar cum personi sette”. A note in the margin says “Ne- 
gat”. 74 But for anyone to be accused of employing seven people to till 
his land, his territory could not have been all that small. 

During the last three years, 1490, 1491 and 1492 (the register for the 
following years is missing) the cattle mentioned in the “rasse” decrease 

68 Ibid., f.230r. 

69 Ibid., f.275v. 

70 Ibid., f.283r. 

71 AACD, Libro delle rasse, reg.n.40, f,17v. 

72 Ibid., f.71v. 

7S Ibid., f. 108r. 

74 Ibid., f.lllr. 


in number: first of all the goats disappear; in 1492, there are two cattle at 
the beginning, then five in April, two in May, then only one, and in July 
there are two once more. 

The wife is mentioned again on 12 October 1490; 75 the daughter 
does not appear again after 15 August 1491. 76 This is the last date, in 
fact, on which two boys and a girl appear together: “Duo filii et una fil- 
lia Johannis Merici die 15 suprascripti [August] dampnificaverunt ficos 
Tomasini de Laude a la chidena acusantur [?] per ipsum Tomasinum et 
dampnificaverunt millium in Strovezari”. 77 This time, it is not the ani- 
mals who are responsible; the three culprits had probably stolen the figs 
and caused some damage in a field of millet belonging to another farmer. 

This last “rassa” raises a legitimate question: Is it really likely that a 
boy, who would now be more than twenty (as the eldest Merici son must 
have been) and who, according to the biographers, came from a family 
universally recognised as being honest and well-brought up, would have 
taken part in two acts of bravado such as those described in the “rasse”, 
namely, stealing figs and, even worse, causing damage to somebody 
else’s field? Brought up in the country, and perhaps a farmer himself, the 
eldest Merici son must have known the economic consequences arising 
from certain damages caused to land under cultivation. And these dam- 
ages must have been considerable, judging from the size of the fine im- 
posed: 4 soldi. What conclusions could be drawn from this - that the 
young man had not been able to get his sister to behave properly and so 
felt he should take some share of responsibility for the mischief done? 
Or perhaps that he had not been present himself and it was his 
other two brothers who were involved, in other words, the brother who 
we believe has already appeared in other “rasse”, together with his sister, 
and a third boy who would be the youngest in the family? If this is so, 
then a precise meaning can be given to the “rassa” of 23 May 1491: 
“Johannes Merici sub custodia filii tertio ipsius et dampnificavit in prato 
de le mandale Tomasini de Introinis in contrata ... cum bestiis 4 bovinis 
aratas per ... solvendo. Soldi 4”. 78 

Given that there is scant respect for grammar in these accusations, 
and that the scribe not only makes use of abbreviations but his writing 
can easily be described as “illegible”, it would be possible to infer from 
the “rassa” of 23 May that there was a third Merici son. And then the 
“duo filii”, who in 1485 had been found guilty of pulling up and carry- 

75 Ibid., f.l39v. 

76 Ibid., f. 12r. 

77 Ibid., f. 12r. 

78 Ibid., f. 163 [263]. 


ing off the famous “pezolos”, could well have been the two youngest 

After August 1491 only one son is found in the “rasse”; the father, 
Giovanni, is mentioned once more on 30 July 1492. 

We have gathered together here what we thought were the most 
important “rasse”. They are a mirror of real peasant life, which some- 
times can seem rather puzzling to us today. Even so, it is not difficult to 
imagine the interplay of envy and jealousy, especially when the accusa- 
tion proved to be false. Nor must we underestimate the fact that the 
“campari” received their percentage on the fines that were paid. This 
would explain why the “rasse” came pouring down, each day filling sev- 
eral pages of the communal registers and sparing no-one in the village. 
We are thus presented with some interesting material regarding the main 
aspects of demography and civil status. Unfortunately, however, we do 
not possess the necessary criteria to interpret these “rasse” adequately, 
but the way lies open for further research. 

As for the economic conditions enjoyed by the Mericis, we can con- 
clude, as we have already said, that it was not a question of either wealth 
or poverty. The cattle and some fields must have provided them with the 
wherewithal to support the six or seven members comprising the family, 
assuring them of a modest material security. 


a) Childhood and adolescence 

Angela must have been very reserved about her family circumstanc- 
es and her childhood. The witnesses of the “Processo Nazari” clearly 
show that they do not know much about them, and scarcely any impor- 
tant information has been discovered about these years. And yet, much 
later, when she is advanced in age and already surrounded by a large spir- 
itual family, she will give proof of the strong bond which united her to 
her family, showing that perhaps she has not forgotten her distant past. 

From the rural world, seen with her own eyes, she will borrow ex- 
pressions which give such a realistic note to her language; verbs such as 
to plant and to dig up, to prune, to take root, all invoke images which 
she has never forgotten. 

From her family life, she retained, no doubt, memories of the 
“rasse”. Acts which must have been the common practice in peasant life, 
to her crystal-clear conscience and memory took on a sinful aspect, if not 



of fraud and injustice, at least of disobedience to the statutory rules laid 
down by the Commune. In the Rule, in the chapter on obedience, she 
will dictate that it is still necessary “to obey the laws and decrees of civil 
and state authorities”, thereby making her daughters face up to their 
duty of respecting the rules of the established civil authority. 

And in the prayer which she suggests “to give matter, and also a 
means to daily mental prayer”, she will say: “Grant also, Lord, pardon 
for the sins of my father and mother, and of my relatives ... I beg you for 
this by your most Sacred Passion ...”. 79 The years have not dimmed her 
memories, her affections, her concerns. 

From her father, as we have seen, Angela remembered what he had 
read to her and taught her. As for her sister, she related that she used to 
pray daily for her after her death, and with so much anguish that the 
Lord had intervened to assure her of her sister’s eternal salvation . 80 But 
about her mother, apart from the mention of her in the prayer, and also 
about her brothers, nothing fell from her lips. 

With regard to herself, Angela had related how the spirit of penance 
and recollection had developed within her, according to what Romano 
and Gallo reported at the “Processo Nazari”. 

The early biographers, beginning with Bellintani, added to this 
some details based on simple common sense and with reference to every- 
day life at that time, such as the games reminiscent of the liturgy, with 
the construction of little altars and the imitation of religious ceremonies. 
The customary rhythm of simple village life used to be interrupted by re- 
ligious feasts, the highlight of which were the processions. Sundays and 
feast-days were marked in a special way by the solemn mass, attended by 
all the people, and this also was an entertainment. There is no need to in- 
voke the supernatural or to resort to a stereotyped holiness, when An- 
gela is described like any other little country child (or town child, for 
that matter) of her day. The tranquil games of children were a reflection 
of the only big events in which they participated, and which took place 
in the midst of bells ringing, the scent of incense, and with the costumes 
and standards of the confraternities. 

All this had started off as an unconscious game of imitation, but, 
gradually, it must have become for Angela a reality of grace, a personal, 
conscious and deliberate orientation; a personal response to a call which 
she sensed even before understanding it. The spiritual game would soon 
become a supernatural experience. 

79 Rego/a, Chapters IX and VI respectively. D2. 

80 Cf. infra, b. 


It is within this perspective that one must place the episode of An- 
gela’s “flight into the desert” with her sister (or little brother, according 
to Bellintani): it was just another children’s game, set within the much 
bigger game of imitating the Saints, a game, moreover, to which Angela 
felt personally attracted. The two young children had set off from the 
house with the intention of withdrawing to pray and to do penance, as 
they had heard in stories about the hermits. But the family, worried by 
their absence, had set out in search of them, and when they had found 
them, had brought them back home. Such is the account given by the 
biographers, generally placing the episode at Salo. 

Perhaps the night vigils, which are attributed to Angela when she 
was young, should also be considered on the boundary-line between 
playing a game and responding, more or less consciously, to an inner 
call. It is known that children, given encouragement at the right mo- 
ment, are capable of great generosity. But do they know how to reckon 
the length of one of their penance vigils? A short time spent in prayer at 
night could, in a child’s mind, be stretched to fill the whole night. It is 
the later sanctity which, by projecting light on the past, transfigures and 
sublimates the childish gestures; but this is no reason for belittling the 
impulse which gave rise to them. 

What can be taken as certain about Angela’s early years, is what she 
herself confided: a very early attraction for the contemplative, sober, re- 
tired life; the search for conditions favourable to prayer and meditation; 
the spirit and practice of penance . 81 And all this interpreted and ex- 
pressed as a child gifted with precocious intelligence and high sensitivity 
would have done, a child who was already striving to find God’s pres- 
ence in the little things of daily life. How far her brothers and sister fol- 
lowed her in this game and in her prayer, we do not know, just as we do 
not know how far she used to follow them in their games and work. We 
do not even know what household duties she undertook once she had 
reached her teens. There is total silence from the biographers about this 

Three deaths which, according to tradition, followed quickly on 
each other, destroyed the unity of the Merici family: Giovanni, his wife 
and the elde daughter all died. Until some reliable contemporary evi- 
dence is discovered, it will not be possible to establish in which order 
and when all these deaths took place. 

According to Nazari, Doneda and Lombardi , 82 the father was the 

81 Process o Nazari, D16. 

82 Respectively: Nazari, Vita , D17, [f.298v]; Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.30-32 and 128-129; Lom- 
bardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.17-21. 


first to die, followed by the daughter; then last, came the mother, but 
Nazari does not mention this. Faino 83 is the only one to invert the order, 
making the sister die first, followed by the father and finally the mother. 

Nobody has advanced any special reason for this apparently close 
succession of deaths. There does not seem to have been any plague epi- 
demic at that time, but there were always plenty of endemic illnesses 
around, just as fatal, which used to result in a whole series of deaths and 
against which one was powerless. This could have happened to the Me- 
rici family. 

As for Angela’s brothers, we found no precise information about 

b) The vision at the “Machetto” 

Lombardi, in agreement here with Faino, 84 makes Angela fifteen 
years old when her father died. When Gondi wrote that Giovanni had 
died in 1516, he had probably got the figure sixteen in his head - Angela 
was entering her sixteenth year - and put it down by mistake for the 
father’s death. 85 

None of the biographers dwells particularly on this death, whereas 
they all make special mention of the sister’s death, no doubt because of 
the repercussions this had on Angela’s mind, because of her anxieties, 
and, finally, because of the divine intervention to allay these, whatever 
form this intervention may have taken. 

Romano is the first to speak about it. Angela had told him in con- 
fidence that “longing to know if her sister’s soul had reached the happi- 
ness of eternal glory, she used to pray to the Lord daily ...”. 86 Gondi 
echoes him. 87 Faino seems to suggest a kind of anguished doubt: “An- 
gela, however, wanted an inner certainty about the state of her dear sis- 
ter, and so, kneeling before the holy images of Christ and of the Virgin 
Mary, she used to pray fervently that they would deign to reveal such a 
profound mystery to her; nor would she allow a long time to pass before 
sending up ardent sighs to Heaven that such a grace should be granted 
her”. 88 This anxiety, this need to be reassured about the eternal destiny of 

85 Faino, Vita, op. cit., pp. 12-17. 

84 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.17; Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.16. 

85 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p. 13. 

86 Processo Nazari, D16. 

87 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p.16. 

88 Faino, Vita, op. cit., pp. 12-13: “Desiderava pero Angela saper lo stato della cara sorella, che 
percio inginocchiata avanti le sacre immagini di Christo e di Maria Vergine, li supplicava 


her sister, could well be justified by the memory of some of her sister’s 
shortcomings and the consequences arising from them, as the “rasse” 
would seem to prove. To Angela’s sensitive soul, these childish pranks 
must have seemed like a sin of disobedience against one’s parents, and 
what is more, a sin which had caused material damage, more or less vol- 
untary, to neighbours, with all the implications that such behaviour must 
have had in the narrow set-up of a small village. 

The intervention of God to reassure her seems to prove that her 
anxieties were well-founded and to indicate their extent. 

Was it a sudden interior response, like a flash of lightning, or an in- 
tellectual vision, or indeed a real apparition? The one who had heard 
about it from the Saint herself made no attempt to find out more; he 
probably would not have known the right questions to ask in this area. 
The fact remains that later biographers took up and enlarged upon the 
statement of Antonio Romano: “One day, when she happened to be in 
one of the small fields belonging to her at Desenzano, she began praying 
for her sister as was her custom. And behold, about midday, she saw in 
the heavens a host of angels, in the midst of whom was the soul of her 
beloved sister, all happy and triumphant; and then suddenly, in a flash, 
the multitude of angels disappeared ”. 89 

As we do not intend to provide a collection of all the sources, we 
suggest that those who want to have a complete overall picture of them 
should turn to Lombardi’s Vita. We have already mentioned his accu- 
racy in putting together or synthesizing every possible quotation about 
every event, no matter how small. 

We are not going to enter into the discussion as to whether the “vi- 
sion” took place at Desenzano or at Salo. The majority of authors opt 
for Desenzano. It is only Bellintani who places it at Salo, in the district 
of “Le Strette”, on the outskirts of Salo according to the communal reg- 
isters, and near to a piece of land belonging to the Biancosis. Angelo Ste- 
fani, the author of the Compendio di Said , follows Bellintani . 90 However, 
there is no evidence in the Atti dei Process i to support this theory. 

We ourselves are inclined towards the place, not far from the 
Grezze, called the “Machetto”, where there still exists a little ruined 
chapel dedicated to St Francis Xavier. It was here that the children 
spent a great part of their early life, “just there where the road leads to 
the meadows and fields which once belonged, if not all, at least in part. 

si compiacessero di rivelarli cosi profondo arcano; ne lasciava longo indugio di tempo, che per otte- 
ner simil gratia non inviasse caldi sospiri al Cielo”. 

89 Processo Na^ari, D16. 

90 Lombardi, Vila, op. at., pp.19-20, n.(b). 


to the Merici family (so some people believe), and which then passed 
into the hands of the house of the noble Conti de Villio Two of 

the witnesses at the Process of canonisation refer to this without any 
hesitation, and both of them knew the area well. 

On 17 February 1772, Pietro Bagatta, who was born at Desenzano 
and then moved to live in Brescia, gives a traditional description of the 
vision of the sister (who in his account appears together with the Blessed 
Virgin), but he adds that the scene of this vision “was in the district 
called the Grezze, on the territory of Desenzano, very near the Machetto, 
where there is a church with a painting above the altar of the Blessed 
Angela among some other Saints. There is still such a vivid memory of 
this apparition, that every time people from the countryside have to pass 
the spot where it took place, they raise their caps and stop to say some 
prayer to Blessed Angela”. 92 

And Giuseppe Pace, a nobleman from Mantua living in Brescia, but 
who used to spend his holidays at Desenzano, on 14 March in the same 
year, sets out the traditional version of the vision of the sister with the 
Virgin Mary, at the Machetto, adding: “As well as the tradition unani- 
mously held by everyone in the country, this fact was told to me by one 
Agostino Mabellini, a completely trustworthy person, who died eighteen 
years ago at the age of nearly ninety, and who himself had heard the 
story, always with the same details, from his grandparents and from the 
universal tradition of the country”. 9 ’ 

In the section of the Atti del Processo devoted to the iconography 
and places of the Merician cult, the chapel at the Machetto is described 
thus: “oratorium publicum SS.mae Dei Genitrici, Sancto Francisco Xa- 
verio ac eidem B. Angelae dicatum, quod situm est in contracta nuncu- 
pata di Macchetto... uno vel altero quasi lapide distans a Mericis praefati 
Oppidi atque aedificatum usque ab anno 1684 a clarae memoriae comite 
Christophoro Villio. In icone altaris praefati oratorii inter alios Sanctos 

91 Lombardi, Ibid, “ivi appunto, dov’e la strada che conduce ne’ prati e campi, una volta (come da 
taluno si crede) se non tutti, almeno in parte di ragione della famiglia Merici, e poi passati nella casa 
de’ Signori Conti de Villio...”. 

92 APC. Vat. 341, ff.586v-587r: “fu in contrata detta delle Grezze, sul tenere di Desenzano, in vici- 
nanza di Machetto, ove e una chiesa con la tavola in pittura dell’altare rappresentante la Beata An- 
gela fra di altri Santi. Si conserva poi tuttora tanto viva la tradizione di questa apparizione, che ogni 
volta che i contadini di quel vicinato passar debbono per quel luogo in cui avvenne, levar sogliono il 
cappello e fermarsi a far qualche orazione alia Beata”. 

93 APC. Vat. 341, f.629r-v: “II qual fatto, oltre la tradizione unanime ed universale del paese, mi fu 
raccontato dal signor Agostino Mabellini, persona degna di tutta la fede, quale mori da diciotto anni 
sono nell’eta quasi nonagenaria, che avevalo esso pure udito nelle stesse circostanze costantemente 
da suoi maggiori e dall’universal tradizione in paese”. 


depinta cernitur eadem Beata vestita more peregrinantis, librum manibus 
gestans cum hoc lemmate: Beata Angela Peregrina ”. 94 

We will not dwell on the prophetic messages that Faino and others 
attach to this vision, but there is no reason to doubt the profound impres- 
sion it had on Angela and also the incentive it gave her to persevere in 
the life of holiness upon which, as she herself says, she had already em- 
barked. Romano says, in fact: “The vision of the soul which had ap- 
peared to her remained engraved on her memory; and that is why, with 
the vision constantly in her thoughts, she gave herself more and more 
earnestly to fasting, abstinence and prayer ”. 95 

And so Angela prepared herself to face another painful trial, the 
departure from the family home. 

94 APC. Vat. 340, £37 lr. 

95 Processo Na%ari, D16. 


Chapter II 


When there is a break in the official documentation about Giovanni 
Merici’s presence in Desenzano, that is, in 1492, the oral tradition takes 
over and helps to feed the various strands of Merician historiography, 
and it is this tradition which affirms that Angela stayed at Salo with her 
mother’s relatives. But it was always limited to a few statements: that 
Angela in her teens, after the loss of her parents, was taken by her uncle 
and aunt to Salo, together with her young brother; that she spent some 
years there helping with the work in the house, and then returned to De- 
senzano, where she lived until 1516. In the meantime she had become 
a Franciscan tertiary. 

It was necessary, therefore, to fit these slender bits of information 
into the framework of the period, giving them a concrete setting, and 
to see if there were any factors which would give them a little more 

Regarding Angela’s daily occupations, the autobiographical evi- 
dence collected together and handed down by Canon Giacomo Tribe- 
sco 1 was already known. A lot of things had been repeated, just on the 
strength of tradition, but they were treated with a certain degree of be- 
nign and also suspicious tolerance. From the new documentation which 
we examined, we had to extract those features which would enable us 
to judge these things and events with a fuller knowledge of the facts. 
Thanks to the research we carried out, we were able to discover new 
facts which widen the previous areas of knowledge. 

1 D25. 


1. SALO 

a) Youth 

Angela was, therefore, a young girl of about seventeen or eighteen 
years when her parents and sister died. At that time, many girls of that 
age, no matter what their social standing, were already married and 
mothers of families. However, it cannot be said that Angela was left 
quite alone, as she had at least two brothers. Their exact ages are not 
known, but we believe one of them was certainly older than Angela, and 
therefore in a position to shoulder the responsibilities involved in look- 
ing after the family property. The situation of the orphans, though, must 
have seemed rather precarious, if their uncle Biancoso de Bianchi and his 
wife thought it better that two of them came to stay at Salo. According 
to Bellintani, 2 this was Angela and her young brother; according to 
Gondi, it was Angela and her sister. 3 Recalling, though, the premature 
death of Angela’s sister, and basing ourselves on the information which 
we were able to derive from the “rasse”, we are inclined to rule out 
Gondi’s version and favour a young brother. 

Compared with Desenzano, Salo was a town of some importance. 
Biancosi had the title of “ser”, and - as we have already said — there were 
not many of his fellow-citizens who bore this title. His son’s name, Bar- 
tolomeo, is also preceded by “ser”. Both of them could have been nota- 
ries. According to the different biographers — who have not, however, 
taken their research very far — Angela now found herself in a very differ- 
ent setting from the one at the Grezze; it offered her a more refined way 
of life and relationships than she had probably experienced before. 

This was perhaps not Angela’s first visit to Salo; one cannot ex- 
clude the likelihood of some previous visits, even if only short, to her 
mother’s family. 

It is precisely during the stay at Salo that Bellintani and Gondi, 4 for 
example, place the episode of the “flight into the desert”, which we re- 
ferred to in the preceding chapter as a children’s game. If this was so, 
one would have to move it back in time and place the episode during 
one of those presumed visits Angela made to her uncle and aunt. 

Faino, influenced by the belief that the sister had participated in the 
flight, thinks that the episode took place at Desenzano, when both of 

2 Bellintani, Vita , in Monumenta, op. cit., pp. 80-81. 

3 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp. 14-15. 

4 Bellintani, Vita, in Monumenta, op. cit., p.81, gives Angela her little brother as a companion; 
Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp. 15-16, makes her sister her companion. 


them were young . 5 Doneda discusses the different points of view and 
solves the problem by attributing to Angela a deliberate desire to leave 
the world to lead the life of a hermit, and also an attempt to put this plan 
into operation by herself, without any companion . 6 The hypothesis 
would be plausible if in the neighbourhood there had been some hermit- 
age where a young girl could take refuge. We were not able to verify the 
statement of G. Gariono-Bertolotti that “the belief persists at Salo that 
St Angela spent forty days at Madonna del Rio ”. 7 The “Madonna del 
Rio” was a chapel situated in a valley not far from Salo. A flight lasting 
so long and in such a place, if it had really happened, could not have 
been ignored by the biographers, but in fact they all speak about the 
uncle’s rapid intervention to bring the fugitive back home. 

Furthermore, such a flight in no way corresponds with the image of 
a wise and prudent woman which has come down to us through the 
Writings of Angela, the early biographers and tradition. This is why we 
ourselves, as we have already said, support the theory that it was a child- 
ish adventure — at Salo or Desenzano — that fits into the framework of a 
simple, serene life, and yet one already foreshadowing, in its aspirations, 
an intense spiritual experience. 

On the other hand, there is one episode related by every biogra- 
pher, from Bellintani onwards, which probably belongs to the period at 
Salo, namely Angela’s attempt to diminish the splendour of her blond 
hair. Her hair indeed was fair, as would be borne out by the examination 
of her mortal remains, about which more will be said later. 

Rather than reject this incident as an edifying detail of hagiography, 
we prefer to look at it within the context of provincial life, under the in- 
fluence of the lights (and shadows) of the Serenissima. 

According to tradition, some companions had admired Angela’s 
beautiful blond hair, assuring her that with such hair she would have no 
difficulty in finding a husband. And then she had tried to tarnish this 
beauty with a mixture of ashes and soot. 

Blond hair was the latest fashion in Venice: “... from the fifteenth 
century it became fashionable to bleach one’s hair. To do this, all the 
Venetian women of fashion used to wet their hair with a small sponge at- 
tached to the end of a stick ; they tinted their hair with different waters and 
washed it in strong soapy water mixed with a thousand aromatics, tartar from 
wine-barrels, orange-peel, ashes, egg-shells, sulphur and a hundred and one other 

5 Faino, Vita, op. cit., pp. 11-12. 

6 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp. 32-33 and 129-130, n.12. 

7 Garioni-Bertolotti, S. Angela, ed. 1971 cit., p.62, n.4. 


vanities. To dry their hair, they used to expose themselves to the sun on 
the terraces of the houses, in those open wooden galleries called bel- 

No wonder the paint-brush of Venetian artists used to linger with 
pleasure on the tawny locks of the women whose portraits they were 

In the light of this precept of Venetian beauty, it is easy to under- 
stand the spontaneity of the compliment paid to Angela by her compan- 
ions; her own response to it had been an immediate but firm defence of 
her intention to remain a virgin. 

Perhaps it is also during this period that another episode took place, 
one related by the various biographers, beginning with Bellintani, and he 
could have taken it down from the lips of some pious soul from Salo, or 
from popular tradition: Angela had gone one day to the Isola dei Frati, 
situated opposite Salo, accompanied by some friends. These had offered 
her a salad of herbs and flowers, but Angela, finding the dish too tasty 
perhaps, had thrown a handful of earth on to the plate . 8 9 The flowers 
were probably wild marguerites or daisies, or even violets; there would 
not yet have been any bunches from the robinia, which was only import- 
ed much later from America and which today covers the Brescian coun- 
tryside. But it might have been the custom to add some other flowers or 
sweet-smelling herbs: simple folk have the art of recognising edible 
herbs and flowers. 

Angela had reacted quickly. Did she want perhaps to make an act of 
protest against the light-hearted and fashionable society in which she 
found herself? Or did she simply want to repulse a temptation to indulge 
her taste? At any rate, this gesture reveals a trait of Angela’s personality, 
her rapidity of decision, not without a certain emotional streak, as was 
perhaps evidenced in her immediate reaction to the compliment about 
her blond hair, and which would reveal itself also on other occasions. 

As for Angela’s normal occupations at Salo, we know, through 
what she confided directly to Canon Giacomo Tribesco, that they were 
of a typically domestic nature: “... when she was young, staying with her 

8 PoMPEO MOLMENTI, La Storia di Venecia rnlla Vita privata, dalle Origini alia caduta della Kepubblica. 
V. ediz. corretta ed accresciuta sulla IV interamente rifatta. Parte II. Lo splendore. Bergamo 1911, 
Istituto Ital. d’Arti Grafiche Editore. Cf. p.398, quoting: PASSI, Donneschi difetti , disc. XXIII, Vene- 
zia 1618: "... dal secolo decimoquinto comincio la moda d’imbiondirsi i capelli. A tal fine tutte le 
Veneziane di garbo si bagnavano la testa con ana sponge tta ligata a la cima di un fuso , si tingevano le 
chiome con acque diverse, e le lavavano con liscia forte, con mille aromati dentro, lume di feccia , scoriae di 
arancia, cenere, scor^e di uovo, solfo e mille altre vanitd. Per rasciugarle, si esponevano al sole sopra i tetti 
delle case, in quelle logge scoperte di legno chiamate altane...”. 

9 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[5v]. 


relatives, she carried out all those usual chores which women do in a 
house, such as washing the clothes, sieving, making bread, carrying wa- 
ter, and many other tasks ”. 10 

Perhaps it is as well to recall to mind today what was involved in 
the big washes, with the bulk of the bed and table linen for a whole sea- 
son. These washes were seldom done during the year; all the women of 
the house rallied round to give a hand, and sometimes it was necessary 
even to bring in some neighbours. It was an operation which lasted sev- 
eral days: after a quick preliminary wash in cold water, the linen had to be 
piled into huge tubs, the water brought to the boil with cinders and kept 
at the boil, by continually poking the fire lit under the enormous copper. 
Throughout the day, water had to be poured into the tub, making sure it 
soaked right through to the bottom; then it was collected and brought to 
the boil again before starting once more to pour it into the tub. This 
operation was repeated the following day, and even a third day, if it was 
necessary. The wet linen then had to be carried out in large wicker bas- 
kets to the river or lake to be rinsed. 

This was followed by stretching out the washing on the grass, if the 
field was near, or otherwise on lines hung on the threshing floor or in 
the courtyard. When it had been dried by the sun or the wind, it was 
brought in and folded before being piled away, with little bunches of 
sweet-smelling herbs, in the large cupboards or chests. 

There was also the more frequent washing of the personal linen. 
This was done in smaller tubs, but with the same ritual, and it always 
involved plunging one’s arms into the cold - or even icy - water for 
the rinsing. 

This was the normal life of women in the house when they were 
unable to have any domestic help to assist them with all the household 

Sifting the flour to separate it from the bran was already a much 
lighter occupation. Angela used to do the washing, sift the flour, knead 
the dough for the bread, draw water from the well, the fountain or the 
stream, and carry it home in a creaking bucket. 

This excursus into the domestic activities may seem a useless digres- 
sion, but it touches closely the concrete world in which Angela moved 
when she was young, and it makes direct reference to the kind of life 
which she herself said she had led. 

10 D25. 


b) “ Ability to read' 

Angela may already have acquired the taste for reading after having 
learnt to read at Desenzano. If not, then she probably would have ac- 
quired and developed it in her new surroundings, with their openness to 
all kinds of interests. 

Agostino Gallo and Giacomo Chizzola, two witnesses at the “Pro- 
cesso Nazari”, both agree in their testimony that Angela knew how to 
read, and with understanding. The former affirms that she used to read a 
lot of holy books, even though she had never been taught the alphabet; 
and the latter is amazed that “she had understood Latin as well as she 
did”, given that she had never studied Latin letters." 

Both these statements clearly refer to the absence of any systematic 
instruction, such as those in a privileged situation could lay claim to, 
with the help of a private tutor or a school-master. 

Let us make a little parenthesis here on teaching methods of the 
period, in reply to an objection which is often raised regarding the fact 
that Angela’s knowledge of reading did not include knowing how to 
write. This is indeed a phenomenon which occurs even in our own day. 

It may be of interest to refer here to some evidence that goes back 
to the beginning of the 16th century. We are borrowing an autobio- 
graphical page from the Brescian mathematician, Nicolo Tartaglia, who 
had had the good fortune to attend the classes of a school-master. It con- 
firms the clear separation which used to exist at that time between learn- 
ing to read and learning to write. In a dialogue with Gabriele Tadino, a 
Knight of Rhodes and prior of Barletta (hence the initial “P” in the 
course of the dialogue), Nicolo is telling him what had happened during 
the first stage of his journey into the world of culture: “N. ‘Before the 
death of my father, I was sent for some months to a reading-school, but 
because I was very young at the time, in other words, only five or six 
years old, I do not remember the name of the master. It is true that later, 
when I was about 14, I went of my own free will, for about 15 days, to a 
writing-school, with a master called Francesco, and during this time I 
learnt how to write the A.b.c. as far as the letter “k” in business- 
lettering’. P. ‘Why only up to “k” and no further?’ N. ‘Because the terms 
of payment (with the said teacher) consisted of paying him a third before 
putting pen to paper, another third when I knew the A.b.c. as far as “k”; 
and the rest when I knew the whole A.b.c. And because, within the time 
allowed, I was unable to find the money needed to settle what I owed 
(and because I was eager to learn), I managed to get hold of some of his 

11 D16. 


completed Alphabets and some specimen copies of his lettering; and I 
did not return there any more, as 1 learnt by myself from these; and so, 
from that day onwards, 1 did not go to him, or to any other tutor, but 
took as my sole companion a daughter of poverty, called Industry’”. 12 

Angela certainly started reading without having received any in- 
struction from a master, as Gallo and Chizzola affirm. She probably had 
learnt to spell by herself, perhaps with some help from her father. Her 
mother also may have known how to read. Angela, therefore, would 
have begun to read with the means at her disposal. Her intuitive intelli- 
gence and openness to things of the spirit would have led her to make 
the acquaintance of the printed books which were coming off the very 
busy printing-presses in Brescia and Venice, and which offered, in addi- 
tion to the Holy Scriptures, the works of the Fathers of the Church. 

c) Austere life 

We spent some time above on the labours involved in certain do- 
mestic tasks, because Canon Tribesco heard Angela refer to them as 
forming the background of her ascetical life: “She used to carry out all 
those tasks ... and yet she did not eat anything throughout the week 
except on Thursdays [and on Sundays, adds Canali], and then only a 
piece of bread no bigger than half the palm of a hand; and with her right 
hand she indicated to me on the left hand the amount of bread she used 
to eat”. 13 

This seems to present a problem of interpretation. What is the 
meaning of the words: “she did not eat”? Do they imply the abstention 
from any kind of food (a natural fast), or simply that restriction on food 
as a mortification, commonly called church fasting? 

12 NlCCOLO Tartaglia, Quesiti et invention i diverse de Nicolo Tartalea Brisciano. Riproduz. in facsi- 
mile dell’edizione del 1554 edita con parti introduttorie da Arnaldo Masotti. Pubblicazione celebra- 
tiva del Quarto Centenario della morte di Niccolo Tartaglia, Brescia, Ateneo di Brescia, 1959, Libro 
VI, ff.69v-70r. “N. ‘Avanti che mio padre morisse, fui mandato alquanti mesi a scola di leggere; ma 
perche a quel tempo io era molto piccolo, cioe di eta de anni cinque in sei, non me aricordo el nome 
di tal maestro. Vero e che, essendo poi di eta di anni 14 vel circa, andei volontariamente circa giorni 
15 a scola de scrivere, da uno chiamato maestro Francesco, nel qual tempo imparai a fare la A.b.c. 
per fin al k. de lettra mercantesca’. P. ‘Perche cpsi per fina al k. et non piu oltra?’ N. ‘Perche li ter- 
mini del pagamento (con el detto maestro) erano di darvi el terzo avanti tratto, et un’altro terzo 
quando che sapeva fare la detta A.b.c. per fina al k, et el resto quando che sapeva fare tutta la detta 
A.b.c. Et perche al detto termine non mi trovava cost li danari de far el debito mio (et desideroso de 
imparare), cercai di havere alcuni di suoi Alphabeti compiti, et essempi de lettera scritti di sua mano; 
et piu non vi tornai, perche sopra de quelli imparai da mia posta; et cosi, da quel giorno in qua, 
mai piu fui, ne andai da alcun’altro precettore, ma solamente in compagnia di una figlia di poverta, 
chiamata Industria’”. 

15 D25. 


Let us go back to the earliest sources, beginning with the evidence 
given at the “Processo Nazari ”, 14 in search of some more precise infor- 

Antonio Romano, who had given shelter to Angela for nearly four- 
teen years, affirms under oath: and I do not remember having ever 

seen her eat meat, but only fruit and vegetables; she used to drink only 
water”. And Agostino Gallo, who had given her hospitality at Cremona, 
and then again for some time at Brescia, confirms that she did not drink 
wine or take any other drink, and that she always used to eat “only little 
bread, but a little more fruit and vegetables, and even these very spar- 
ingly”. Romano and Gallo are describing, therefore, not a total absten- 
tion, but a limited fast. 

Romano refers also to a stricter fast, but with a time limit, which 
Angela used to impose on herself during the novena of Pentecost: 
“Every year she used to eat only one meal between Ascension and Pente- 
cost, that is, five days after the Ascension; and this meal consisted only 
of fruit and water”. 

Whereas Giacomo Chizzola, who had less contact with Angela than 
the two preceding witnesses, remembers “having heard it said by some 
trustworthy people”, and having understood “that she never used to eat 
meat except in the case of illness and, what is more, throughout Lent she 
used to eat only on Sundays, and even then she just ate very ordinary 
food, such as fruit and vegetables”. 

From Romano’s testimony of a simple regime of fasting and absti- 
nence kept up throughout the year (with an almost absolute fast in 
preparation for Pentecost), and Gallo’s testimony of a diet of fasting and 
abstinence, one passes by “hearsay” to an almost total fast throughout 
Lent, always with a vegetarian diet. 

Nazari, in his Vita, confirming the abstention from meat, which 
no-one questions, adds: “From the Ascension of Our Lord to Pentecost, 
she used to eat only one meal during these nine days; she also used to 
fast on bread and water every Friday of the year and every day during 
Lent, except on the Fridays of Lent when she ate nothing at all ”. 15 Na- 
zari’s position is closer to the moderate view of Romano and Gallo. 

Among the people, however, devotion, taste for the extraordinary, 
reputation for sanctity, all combined together to exaggerate the actual 
facts as noted by the eye-witnesses, giving them the dimension of a 

14 D16. 

15 D17. 


Bellintani, who later on found himself in a position to collect to- 
gether the tales which were circulating round Brescia and Said, writes 
clearly: “Her food for the whole day was, at the most, a small piece of 
bread. During Lent, she used to eat no food at all for three days in the 
week. The other three days, she used to put in front of her three nuts, 
three chestnuts or three figs, or even an apple, and tell her body to 
choose what would please it most, because she would only eat one of 
these things on that day, and nothing else. She would eat bread only on 
the holy day of Sunday, and then only a very little, as already said. Some- 
times she used to spend the whole week without any earthly food, con- 
tent to be nourished by the bread of the Angels, the Most Holy Body of 
Jesus Christ; and then, to make a distinction on Sundays, she used to 
take one slice of bread on that day ”. 16 

This position, which stands in contrast to that of the more credit- 
able witnesses, will be adopted by Gondi , 17 Faino , 18 Doneda , 19 and Lom- 
bardi . 20 All four take the same extreme line as Bellintani; for them “not 
to eat” means to eat no food at all. Doneda even concludes that “Ange- 
la’s small stature was probably due, in great part, to the fact that during 
her youth she ate practically nothing, at a time when she was carrying 
out the heavy household-work already mentioned ”. 21 

As for Stefani , 22 he notes that Angela “was always careful to devote 

16 Bellintani, Vita , op. cit ., BQ, ms. B. VI. 30, f.[5v], “II cibo di tutto un giorno, quando ella piu 
mangiava, era solo senza altro un pezzetto di pane. La quaresima passavasi tre giorni la settimana 
senza cibo di sorte alcuna; negli altri tre giorni, inanzi si metteva tre noci, o tre castagne, o tre fichi, 
overo un pomo, dicendo al corpo suo che prendesse qualcosa di quelle piu gli gradisse; perche di 
una sola di quelle, et non d’altro, havevasi quel giorno a nudrire. Solo il santo giorno della dome- 
nica mangiava pane, ma pero molto poco, come si e detto. Passavasi talvolta ancora tutta la setti- 
mana senz’altro cibo terreno, contentata et sostentata del pane de gli Angeli, il Sacratissimo Corpo 
di Giesu Christo; et all’hora, per far differenza <.1 alia domenica a gli altri giorni, haverebbe in quella 
presa una sola fetta di pane”. 

17 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp.20-21. 

18 Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.17. 

19 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.34-35. 

20 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.22-23. 

21 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.35: “l’essere stata Angela di picciola statura anzi che no, fosse in gran 
parte provenuto dalla quasi estrema inedia tollerata in sua gioventu, congiunta con le non leggieri 
fatiche teste accennate”. Doneda is making allusion here to the domestic tasks enumerated by 

22 [Angelo Stefani] Compendio Storico della Vita della B. Angela..., Salo, 1771, pp.30-31: “ebbe sem- 
pre pensiero di darsi all’astinenza, che in sostanza non fu se non un continuo digiuno... Non si ci- 
bava di carni, se non in tempo d’infermita; si asteneva da cio che potesse sollecitare la gola, conten- 
tandosi di riparare le perdute forze con scarsissimo cibo. Era maggiore la sua astinenza in tempo di 
quaresima, poiche passava talvolta piu giorni senza ristorarsi; e quel tempo che va di mezzo all’A- 
scensione e la Pentecoste, era da lei impiegato in orazione piu fervente o lunga... E fama tramandata 
a noi da alcuni Scrittori, che scrissero di lei, che in que’ dieci giorni altro cibo non prendesse che 
la santa Eucaristia”. 



herself to abstinence, which was virtually nothing but one continuous 
fast.... She did not take meat except when she was ill; she abstained from 
anything which might encourage indulgence in taste, contenting herself 
with the scantiest of food to restore any lost strength. During Lent, she 
abstained even more, because at times she used to spend several days 
without taking any nourishment; and the time between Ascension and 
Pentecost used to be spent by her in longer and more fervent prayer ... 
Word has come down to us from some Writers, who have written about 
her, that during these ten days she took no other nourishment but the 
Holy Eucharist”. Stefani seems to us to reflect an intermediary position 
between that of the eye-witnesses and the extreme view of Bellintani and 
some of his followers. 

We cannot refrain from giving the reasons which incline us to inter- 
pret the phrase “she did not eat”, used by Tribesco, as meaning a “fast” 
and not a total abstention from food. 

The fast which the Church laid down for certain days and certain 
periods of the year allowed one main meal a day, without any limit about 
the quantity or any restriction about the quality, save for the obligatory 
abstinences. A light morning meal called “frustulum” was allowed, and 
also a light supper in the evening. It was not forbidden to drink between 
meals (wine, water). Such a fast could be sustained for a few days, but 
kept up for any length of time, it certainly became burdensome. There is 
no doubt at all that if it was prolonged throughout the year, year after 
year, it was not an easy penance to endure, and it presupposed a good 
physical constitution, plenty of energy and generosity as well as a psy- 
chological equilibrium rarely found, without speaking of a very special 
grace from God. 

For a young girl who was still growing, and who was not yet 
obliged to keep this rule, it was certainly premature to practise 
continually the fasts of the Church. With good reason the relatives might 
not give their approval to it or share in it; but, finally, they gave their 
consent, on condition that Angela suffered no ill effects from it. Whereas 
a total abstention from food, which . is what some of the authors 
mentioned above implied, would have aroused justifiable anxiety and 
opposition in the family, as well as curiosity and gossip among the 
townsfolk, since news of it would have got about. And the matter, 
grossly exaggerated by popular credulity, would have become part and 
parcel of a much wider oral tradition; but there is no trace of any such 

In addition there is a psychological factor which makes us incline 
towards the “ecclesiastical fast” in preference to the total “natural fast”. 
Angela, so reluctant to speak about herself, so anxious to avoid certain 


forms of spiritualism which bordered on exhibition and left the way 
open to the sin of pride, 23 was not a person to impose on herself any 
spectacular or indiscreet penances; these would have been in marked 
contrast to that equilibrium which was hers and to which her whole life 
and writings bear witness. 

Angela had made a free choice, opting for a hard and penitential life 
with all the enthusiasm of youth, with the impulse of a spontaneous but 
well-disciplined temperament, coupled with the determination of an en- 
lightened will, but also with the prudent wisdom that came to her by lis- 
tening to the Holy Spirit. One indisputable fact would very soon justify 
these voluntary fasts: Angela’s decision to ask to join the Third Order 
of the Friars Minor of the Strict Observance. 

d) The Franciscan tertiary 

Angela’s membership of the Third Order of St Francis is one of 
the most documented biographical pieces of information, even in the 
official documents. It would suffice to recall the petition Angela herself 
made to the Holy See in 1532, 24 seeking to be dispensed from the obliga- 
tion of being buried in a Franciscan church. The official transcription 
of this petition 25 begins thus: “Exponitur Sanctitati Vestre pro parte 
oratricis Angele de Salodio mulieris Brixiensis diocesis sororis Tertii 
Ordinis Sancti Francisci...”. 

The letter from the Sacred Penitentiary is sent to the “dilectae in 
Christo Angelae de Salodio mulieri Brixiensi Sorori Tertii Ordinis S. 
Francisci”, 26 and Angela is called “soror Tertii Ordinis S. Francisci” in 
some of the notarial acts. 27 The Processo Na^ari is inscribed to the “Reve- 
renda Madre Suor Angela Terzebita” (that is, dressed as a Tertiary). 
Romano will testify that “she took the habit of the Third Order of the 
Friars Minor of St Francis.... She did not tell me where this took 
place ...”, adding that he had known her when she was already wearing 
that habit. 28 Agostino Gallo will make a similar statement. 29 

When, where and why did Angela enter the Third Order? Such 
questions rise spontaneously, but we do not possess the necessary infor- 
mation to give comprehensive answers to them. 

23 See Processo Na^ari (D16) concerning what Angela confided to Agostino Gallo about the danger 
of extraordinary gifts, more or less authentic. 

24 Up to date it has not been possible to find the original of the petition addressed to the Holy See. 

25 D8. 

26 D9. 

27 D6 and D28. 

28 D16. 

29 Ibid. 


The date, for example, is completely uncertain. Some time must 
have elapsed before the uncle and aunt, who were the guardians of the 
young orphan girl, would take on the responsibility of giving their con- 
sent. It is true that the Third Order was a way of life which was not 
binding on the future, even marriage not basing excluded, and that it 
seemed to respond to those things which attracted Angela, drawn as she 
was to a life of solitude, recollection and penance, but it entailed some 
obligations which the uncle and aunt must have taken into serious consid- 
eration. The Franciscans, on their side, would not have accepted a 
young girl if they had not known her very well and had not had some 
proof of her seriousness and steadfastness. 

As for the place, a guess can be made that Angela’s admission took 
place at Salo, since at that time there was no Franciscan convent yet at 
Desenzano. Moreover, in the transcription of the petition and in the let- 
ter of the Sacred Penitentiary, which we have mentioned, she is called 
“Angela of Salo”. As these two documents are concerned about a special 
disciplinary matter relating to the Franciscan Third Order, the title “of 
Salo” could well refer to the place where Angela was admitted. In fact, 
she is not called by this title in any other document. 

According to Angelo Stefani, the Friars Minor of the Observance at 
Salo “at that time not only had the convent of S. Bernardino, erected 
there in 1476, but they used to say mass and also administer the sacra- 
ments in the church called ‘della Disciplina’, situated quite close to the 
Biancosi house where she was living”. 30 

As for Doneda, he does not exclude the possibility that Angela took 
the habit of a tertiary at the Isola di Garda, also called “Isola dei Frati”, 
not far from Salo, 31 but this is simple conjecture on his part. 

Regarding the motive behind Angela’s decision to enter the Fran- 
ciscan Third Order, Agostino Gallo reported at the “Processo Nazari” 
that he had several times heard it said that it had been “so that it would 
be easier for her to go to mass, to confession and to communion, be- 
cause at that time lay-people were not allowed to receive communion 
often”. 32 

50 [Stefani], Compendio, op. cit., pp.26-27: "... in quel tempo non solo avevano il convento di S. Ber- 
nardino eretto fin dal 1476, ma operavano al sacro altare, e ministravano sacramenti anche nella 
chiesa detta della Disciplina, pochissimo discosta dalla casa Biancosi dove ella abitava”. For the vast 
reforming movement of the Franciscan Observance, cf. MARIO FoiS, I Papi e POsservans^a Minoritica, 
in 1/ Rinnovamento del Francescanesimo - LlOsservan^a, Atti dell’XI Convegno internazionale di Studi 
Francescani, Assisi, 20-21-22 ottobre 1983, pp. 31-105; Mario Fois, 11 fenomeno dell’Osservamyi negli 
Ordini religiosi tra il 1300 e il 1400 - Alcrne parlicolarita della Ocservan^a francescana, in Lettura delle fonti 
francescane attraverso i secoli : il 1400, Roma 1981, Ed. Antonianum, pp.53-105. 

51 Doneda, Vila, op. cit., p.36. 

52 D16. 


From the 3rd to the 5th centuries, there had been the practice of 
daily communion in the Church, but then followed centuries of decline 
which led the Fourth Lateran Council to lay down the precept of com- 
munion at least once a year. 

Between the 14th and the 15th centuries, Tauler, Gerson and Ga- 
briel Biel had advocated frequent communion, even for the laity. But the 
arguments of the first, the enthusiasm of the second and the ardent ex- 
hortations of the third represented a new direction in eucharistic devo- 
tion. This movement would culminate in the Tridentine decrees of the 
16th century, but many obstacles had to be overcome before the practice 
was accepted by the universal Church. Italy, together with Spain and 
Germany, had been rather refractory to the wind of this innovatory 
trend. Confessors and pastors continued to follow restrictive guidelines 
for giving out frequent communion, even in the case of people leading a 
holy life. 53 

Even the statutes of pious associations and the rules of the Third 
Orders, while enjoining very long prayers, prolonged fasts and other 
corporal austerities, prescribed only a very limited number of confes- 
sions and communions during the year. 34 

The Franciscan Third Order in this respect followed the same cus- 
tom as the other pious societies: the primitive Rule prescribed eucharistic 
communion at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Nor were the monastic 
rules any more generous, since they only allowed it twelve to fourteen 
times a year. The Oratories of Divine Love, which sprang up between the 
15th and 16th centuries, prescribed to their members the reception of 
eucharistic communion at least four times a year, in addition to Christ- 
mas and Easter. It is only in the second half of the 16th century that the 
practice of monthly communion appears in the various associations. 35 

The Franciscans may not have been the first, but they were among 
the first to promote the confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament, even if 
almost a century elapsed between the foundation of Fra Cherubino da 
Spoleto and the one established in the Cathedral of Milan in 1372; 36 and 

33 J. Duhr, Communion frequente , in Dicfionnaire de Spiritualize Ascetique et Mystique Doctrine et Histoire 
publie sous la direction de Marcel Viller SJ, assiste de F. Cavallera et M. Olphe-Galliard SJ, avec 
le concours d’un grand nombre de collaborateurs. Beauchesne et ses Fils, Paris 1953, fasc.XI et XII, 
col. 1265-1273. 

54 Pietro Tacchi Venturi SJ, Storia della Compagnia di Gesu in Italia narrata col sussidio di fonti inedite. 
Volume I, parte I, La vita religiosa in Italia durante !a prima eta della Compagnia de Gesu, 3“ ediz. note- 
volmente accresciuta. Ediz. “La Civilta Cattolica”, Roma 1950. Cf. “La frequenza della comunione 
avanti e lungo il sec. XVI”, pp.249-269. 

55 Ibid. 

36 Ibid. “II culto dell’Eucarestia nel Cinquecento”, pp.217-228. 


we would not be able to say if any other “schools” or confraternities of 
the Blessed Sacrament — or which ones — came into being during that 
interval of time. Bernardino da Feltre established one of them in Brescia 
in 1494. But the purpose of these confraternities was concerned rather 
with the exterior display of the eucharistic cult: to give a worthy place in 
the churches to the sacred species, by keeping them in suitable tabernac- 
les; to use sacred vessels made at least of valuable metal, if it was not 
possible to have them in precious metal; to see that the Blessed Sacra- 
ment was watched over night and day by a lighted lamp, symbol of faith 
and love; and to arrange for the Viaticum to be carried with some solem- 
nity to the dying. 

This revival of the cult, however, did not include any increase in 
the frequency of eucharistic communion. In the Bull of 21 August 1508, 
which solemnly confirmed the first Roman company of Corpus Christi, 
founded in the church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso, Julius II himself pro- 
moted the exterior cult, but he made no mention of the reception of the 
sacrament. Several decades still had to pass between the renewal of the 
cult and of the exterior devotion, and a deepening understanding by the 
clergy of the eucharistic sacrifice which would make them want to cel- 
ebrate mass daily. Among the most effective promoters of frequent 
communion, mention must be made of Antonio-Maria Zaccaria, Cajetan 
of Thiene, and especially Ignatius of Loyola with his early followers. 37 

But at Brescia in Angela’s day, the situation seems to have been 
fluctuating and it is not clear how far it was restrictive, or what attempts 
were made to introduce frequent communion and how successful they 
were. The fact remains that when Giovan Pietro Ferretti, bishop “in 
pontificalibus suffraganeus, locumtenens et vicarius generalis”, issued 
the Constitutions for the Church in Brescia in 1545, 38 he dissuaded the 
parish clergy from allowing communion too frequently, warning them 
“ne sacram Eucharistiam laicis personis quotidie impendant, sed nec 
etiam alio quovis modo frequentius, nisi fortasse de consilio nostro...” 
and giving as his reason: “quod nec etiam (ut legimus) in ipsis Eremis, 
atque antiquis coenobiis vix sanctis viris permittebatur...”. Such is the 
position expressed in Chapter XIII, “De laicis omni die non communi- 

37 Dictionnaire, op. at.. col. 1270. 

38 Comtitutioms et / '.die ta observanda in sancta Brixiensi Ecclesia, et eius tota Dioecesi , Noviter per Reve- 
ren. in Christo patrem, Iur. utr. doct. D. Ioan. Petrum Ferrettum Rhavenn. Mylen. Episcopum, 
Suffraganeum, Locumtenentem, et Vicarium generalem promulgata. Brixiae, Impressit Damianus 
Turlinus, die VII Septembris, a. MDXLV. The copy in the Vatican Library is numbered Race. 
I.IV.2177 (int.3). 


And then in Chapter XXXXVII, “Declaratio Cap. XIII super com- 
munione quotidiana”, Ferretti tones down the severity of this instruction 
by referring the matter to God, and to selected, experienced and God- 
fearing confessors, so that they may examine very carefully the disposi- 
tions of mind and heart, taking the decision upon their conscience. The 
“Declaration” says in fact: “Super quo causam huiusmodi Deo, discretis, 
timoratis, ac peritissimis confessoribus, ut mentium et animorum fibras 
funditus, ne facile seducantur, excutiant, illorum conscientias arctius in 
Domino praegravantes, ex consilio nostro aeque prorsum remittimus”. 

Later, when another bishop of Brescia wanted to restrict commun- 
ion for the laity to three days a week, the Congregation of the Council 
would send him a decree — but this would be in 1587 - reminding him of 
the Tridentine teaching and urging him to be careful to see that well- 
disposed lay-people were not prevented from communicating daily. 39 

We do not know how often Angela had hoped to receive commun- 
ion by becoming a tertiary; certainly it would have been the maximum 
allowed by her confessor or spiritual father. Agostino Gallo was to relate 
that “she used to go to communion every day she could”. 40 This sentence 
would seem to exclude daily communion, at least during the period he 
knew her, but it does suggest a frequency not granted to everyone. By 
belonging to a such a prestigious religious family as the Friars Minor of 
the Observance, Angela was shielded from people’s inquisitive com- 
ments and from any reproach of singularity. Just as the new title of “Sur 
Anzola” gave her the right to frequent the church and the sacraments 
more, so her tertiary habit served to justify her natural reserve; and the 
Franciscan Rule set the official seal on her determination to follow Christ 
more closely and justified an austerity of life which she had freely chosen 
in response to a personal call. This last argument could well have been a 
determining factor in Angela’s decision, together with the prospect of 
approaching the sacraments more frequently. 

The biographers have not spent any time on the specific commit- 
ments which Angela was required to observe once she had entered the 
Third Order. We would like to give a summary of them here, taking 
them from the Rule contained in the Bull “Supra Montem” of Nicholas 
IV: 41 

- a commitment for life: “nullus post ipsius Fraternitatis ingressum de 

39 Dictionnaire, op. cit., col. 1372. 

* Processo Nasptri, D16. 

41 Bullarium Franciscanum Romanorum Pontificum Constitutiones, Epistolas ac Diplomata continent tribus or- 
dinibus Minorum, Clarissarum et Poenitentium a Seraphico Patriarcha Sancto Francisco lnstitutis concessa... 
Tomus IV, Romae 1768, Typis S. C. de Propaganda Fide, pp.94-97. 


eadem egredi valeat ad saeculum reversurus: possit tamen transitum ha- 
bere liberum ad Religionem aliam approbatam” (Chap. II); 

— a habit in the form of a tunic, with a cape, in ordinary material, and a 
small neckerchief of linen or hessian, without any frills. Silk ribbons and 
other adornments were not allowed (Chap. Ill); nothing was said about 
hair-styles, as women used to keep their heads covered at the time of 
St Francis; 

— the prohibition from attending disreputable shows and banquets, fash- 
ionable meetings and balls (Chap. IV); 

— abstention from meat four days every week (except when they 
coincided with big feasts); fast every Friday, and also every Wednesday 
between All Saints’ and Easter, together with any necessary fasts fixed 
by the ordinary. Daily fast during Advent and Lent; between Easter and 
the feast of St Francis, permission for three meals a day (except on 
Friday), for anyone who had to do heavy work (Chap. V); 

— confession and communion at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost (Chap. 

— recitation of the canonical Hours; 

— to be a peacemaker among fellow brothers and sisters, and also among 
strangers when this was possible; 

— attendance, if possible, at daily mass; participation in the communal 
solemn mass each month; an offering to be made for the poor or sick 
members; choice of a spiritual director who encouraged penance and 
works of mercy (Chap. XII); 

— visit to sick sister members so that each week they received a visit 
from a sister of the confraternity (Chap. XIV). 

The Rule did not give any indication about practical activities to be 
carried out as a direct apostolate or as an exercise of charity and mercy: 
thus Angela would have been available for whatever design God had in 
mind for her. 

e) “The Tempter" 

It is at Said, therefore, that Angela would have acquired the habits 
of austere living which she kept up for the rest of her life, such as sleep- 
ing on some matting or a chair, and living on vegetables, fruit and fish. 

Perhaps it is at the beginning of this penitential life that one must 
place the temptation which Agostino Gallo remembers because Angela 
herself had told him about it one day in confidence. All the biographers 
will later repeat the story: “In her early years, Satan appeared to her in 
the form of an angel of such beauty, that it exceeds anyone’s belief or im- 
agination; but God had pity on the purity of this innocent soul and en- 


lightened her in such a way that she immediately threw herself, face 
downward, on the ground, crying out: ‘Go to hell, enemy of the Cross, 
because I know I am not worthy to see an angel of God’, and so he sud- 
denly disappeared”. 42 

A temptation to pride? to self-satisfaction? or perhaps an insidious 
invitation to slacken a little her drive towards God and the rigours of 
her asceticism? Angela does not seem to have provided any further de- 
tails, or if she did, they have not come down to us. Gallo’s account, 
stripped of any embellishment, leaves little room for the imagination. 
The one thing certain is that the devil tried to deceive Angela, and that 
her reaction, springing from a genuine humility, was instinctive and un- 
compromising. At the same time, it revealed a resolute personality, capa- 
ble of immediate decision. 

This experience made her cautious about any form of exhibitionism 
and singularity, as Gallo confirms in the same text. 


a) The return 

It is not known how long Angela stayed with her relations at Said 
before returning to her native region. Faino says that she stayed there 
about five years, 43 but gives no documentation to support this. Perhaps a 
brother living at Desenzano had got married and could now offer to 
protect his sister; or else something had changed the situation of the 
family at Said, making it expedient for Angela to return to the family 
house, almost certainly at the Grezze. This seems to us to be a reasonable 
assumption, at least until some cadastral document turns up with the in- 
formation that there was another dwelling-place where Angela might 
have lived. 

At the Archivio Antico Comunale of Desenzano, the tax-register 
for 1523, on f. 16, contains the declaration already mentioned by us: “Sur 
Merizi habet petiam terrae aratoriae vidatae in contrata Caser a monte 
Zorzo Monte, a sero Petrus Domigo. Lire 5”. 44 

If the five lire indicate the tax that had to be paid on the property, 
then the land concerned would have been fairly extensive and produc- 

42 D16. 

45 Faino, Vita, op. cil., p.19. 

44 AACD, Reg.n.56; Estimo 1523, f.!6v; D14. 


tive. It was still entered under the name of Angela Merici, or rather “Sur 
Merizi”. By 1523 Angela was already living at Brescia, but it is clear that 
she continued to retain the ownership of the property, and this refutes 
the statements of Bellintani, Doneda and others, according to which An- 
gela stripped herself of all her goods out of love of poverty. 

The Partitario 1° and the Partitario 2° contain the credit and debit 
accounts of the Commune of Desenzano vis-a-vis its inhabitants. We 
find there, between 1504 and 1515, a Johannes Merici, or Zuan de Me- 
rigo, who must have been still comparatively young; in 1509 or 1510, in 
fact, he has a son, under-age or at least under his care, who is employed 
as a digger by the Commune for seven days at the rate of 10 soldi a day 
(“per zorni n.7 a rason de soldi 10 cadaun zorno”); the wage was paid to 
the father. Zuan himself worked in the port for the Commune. 45 We do 
not know how he was related to Angela. Was he perhaps Angela’s eldest 
brother, the one called Giovan Maria on the family-tree? 

b) The vision of the “ ladder ' ’ 

All the biographers, oral tradition and the tradition of the figurative 
arts are in agreement about one episode in Angela’s life: this is the vision 
of the “ladder”, which would later be represented in iconography as 
stretching between earth and heaven, with its procession of rejoicing an- 
gels and virgins. 

The first to give evidence about it is Father Francesco Landini, con- 
fessor to the virgins of the Company of St Ursula at Brescia, in the 
extract from a letter which we have already mentioned. 46 The setting is 
the countryside, at harvest-time; it is siesta hour, that is about midday, 
sidereal time. 

In those days the Italian clock used to measure time in accordance 
with the “natural” or “solar” day, in other words by counting the 
twenty-four hours from the hour following sunset, and this was subject, 
therefore, to continuous variations according to the changing seasons. 

In summer, the early morning mass used to be celebrated at the first 
light of dawn; by sunrise the peasants were already at work in the fields. 
Towards the 16th and 17th hour (that is, 10-11 hours, sidereal time), 
when the sun was already high and the work was becoming heavy, a 

45 AACD, Reg.n.45, Partitario 1\ 1501-1508, ff.65r, 195r; Reg.n.46, Partitario 2\ 1507-1543, f.35r. 
The son is only mentioned in Partitario 2°. 

46 D15. The Secondo Lihro Generate , on f.38r, lists Father Landini among the confessors; there is noth- 
ing to prove that he held any other title in the Company. 


meal was taken, followed by a siesta, and then work would be resumed. 
People had to return home before the Angelus, at sunset. 

Thus, according to Father Landini, it was during the siesta at mid- 
day that Angela used to withdraw from the others to pray. One day, en- 
raptured in God, she seemed to see heaven open and coming from it a 
procession of angels and virgins, in alternate pairs. The angels were play- 
ing various instruments and the virgins were singing. The tune of that 
song remained so imprinted in Angela’s memory that she could even 
sing it. And as the procession files past, behold her dead sister appears, 
and tells Angela about her future mission to found a Company of vir- 

As we have already said, from this nucleus of essential elements, 
which fuses into one the two visions which are said to have taken place, 
the one of the sister now among the blessed in heaven, and the one of 
Angela’s prophetic call about her mission, has grown up one of the most 
popular themes of Merician iconography. One can discuss - as certain 
biographers have done - whether or not the reference here was to a 
ladder of biblical memory: but, obviously, from the open heaven the 
procession could give the impression of descending towards earth, and 
to express this, perhaps Angela herself had found nothing better than a 
ladder with which to compare it. 

Landini openly confesses that his outline of the life and figure of 
Angela is incomplete. He gives as his excuse his absence from Brescia, 
and therefore the impossibility for the time being of questioning in a 
fitting manner the virgins of the Company. But he affirms that he is just 
repeating what he had already heard from the lips of Angela’s first 
companions. No-one, however, has told us what expressions were used 
by the first members of the Company when they told the story about the 
vision, or from which source were originally derived the details which 
have reached us. 

There has been much discussion about the number of these heav- 
enly visions, whether there was one of them or two different ones, with 
separate contents. Romano mentions only one: that of the sister (which 
is believed to have taken place at the Machetto); Landini, as we have 
seen, merges the two elements into one. Bellintani and Gondi embroider 
the preceding meagre evidence, and in this they are followed afterwards 
by a whole line of writers who linger over the description of certain de- 
tails, such as the noble garments or magnificent crowns of the virgins, or 
even the angels with pearls on their foreheads. 

Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, who painted the heavens he had gazed 
upon when rapt in ecstasy, interpreted their splendour by the gold and 


gems bedecking his angels and the blessed, and the infinite harmony by 
the musical instruments played by his angels. The account of the vision 
given by the different authors inevitably became elaborated with the sty- 
listic features so dear to the iconography and religious literature of the 
time. Linked to this was the desire to reconstruct, according to the crite- 
ria of human logic, an event which, by its very nature and origin, escapes 
from any human category. 

Whoever wanted to give a touch of realism to the account of Ange- 
la’s ecstasy had to keep within the framework specific to the pictorial 
language of the day to describe the heavenly world. Angela herself, in 
order to make available to others the inexpressible celestial experience of 
seeing heaven opening to her, a simple creature, and allowing her to see 
in God her own destiny, had to have recourse to the expressions of 
everyday language, appropriate to the religious culture of her back- 
ground, a culture certainly not very refined from the theological point of 
view. And everyone, hearing the story of the vision, would visualise it 
mentally according to the stereotyped images familiar to his or her devo- 
tion and imagination. This would explain the attention given to some of 
the descriptive details. To this must be added, obviously, a certain taste 
that people have for the extraordinary, for the dazzling when they ap- 
proach the world of the spirit. 

These inevitable distortions of expression in no way detract from 
the veracity of the fact that, in the life of Angela, a supernatural event 
took place, with the purpose of revealing the mission to which God was 
calling her. So novel was the wording of this mission, that it would re- 
quire on Angela’s part an unhesitating faith and courageous determina- 
tion. The “sign” from heaven was aimed at getting her ready and pre- 
pared for it. 

It remains to be asked when all this happened. Such a “vocational” 
vision — whether it was, let us repeat, an interior intuition, an intellec- 
tual vision or an exterior apparition - would seem to be better placed in 
the second period at Desenzano than in the first. Doneda, who discusses 
the number of visions and favours only one, nevertheless ends the sub- 
ject by joining sides with the common tradition that distinguishes two 
separate events, and precisely on the strength of this very tradition. Then 
he recalls Cozzano’s statement that, although the Company had been in- 
spired and divinely revealed to Angela from her childhood (“fin da pic- 
cola”), she had not wanted to start it unless commanded to do so by 
Jesus Christ, so that it would be clear that she had acted only under the 
movement of the Holy Spirit . 47 

47 Cozzano, Epislola. D22. 


The same Cozzano, in the Dichiara^ione della Bolla, uses the expres- 
sion “fin da giovinetta” (“from her youth”), making it clear that Angela 
had founded the Company later, in her own good time, at God’s com- 
mand . 48 “From her childhood” and “from her youth”, in their context, 
are not to be understood as having any definite chronological signifi- 
cance. The two expressions are intended only to separate in time God’s 
call from the actual moment of execution, with the aim of highlighting 
the twofold divine intervention: first, the call, and then the command to 
carry it out. Clearly, the faithful secretary of the “Madre” must have 
heard her tell the story herself, both of the first manifestation of the mis- 
sion which was awaiting her, and of the decisive impulse which later had 
compelled her to carry it out. But how these two particular moments 
took place, Cozzano has handed down nothing. 

c) The “Bruda^o" 

Even today the tradition is still alive in Desenzano that the Ma- 
chetto and the Brudazzo are the places where Angela was rewarded 
with the two visions that are attributed to her. Two of the process- 
witnesses, Bagatta and Pace, have left some evidence of this transmission 
of memories. 

Pietro Bagatta does not hesitate to place the vision of the ladder at 
the “Brudazzo ... a place situated not far from the main road which goes 
from Salo to Desenzano, at the entrance to another remote path, which 
leads to the village of Maguzzano. This same path is in a very wooded, 
low-lying and isolated area. And the memory of this vision has always 
been, and still is, so alive and constant, that at the exact spot of the 
above-mentioned vision one can still see a kind of ancient niche with 
some holy pictures painted in fresco, which with the passing of the years 
and the inclemency of the weather, have almost been worn away. But the 
memory itself has never faded away, nor the devotion of the people of 
that region, who often flock together here, just as to a place of venera- 
tion, so that they can commend to Blessed Angela their particular needs; 
the peasants also have the custom of continually bringing candles to this 
place to light in her honour, especially when some misfortune has befal- 
len them, either of health or something else, and they say prayers there. 
These things to which I testify here regarding the above-mentioned sites 
of the two visions, apart from the fact that I know them personally, are 
still common knowledge and well-known in Desenzano ”. 49 

48 Cozzano, Dichiara^ione. D24. 

APC. Vat. 341, f.587r-v. “al Brudazzo... situato questo in poca distanza dalla strada maestra che 


Giuseppe Pace is much more succinct, but he also confirms the tra- 
dition and the local devotion which expresses itself at the Brudazzo, by 
lighting candles and going there on prayerful pilgrimages . 50 

The two testimonies are expressed in a simple, straightforward 
manner. Both witnesses describe with spontaneity, and from their own 
personal knowledge, the two places which had been singled out by the 
“vox populi” and had become the goal of devotional pilgrimages. 

Far from feeling at ease with these and other extraordinary phenom- 
ena, such as ecstasies, stigmata, visions, Angela would always look on 
them with a certain mistrust, as she herself would confide to Agostino 
Gallo . 51 Thus it is very likely that she submitted the vision of the ladder 
to the judgment of her confessor, as is suggested by Fra Mattia Bel- 
lintani . 52 

d) “ Sur Angola” 

Returning to Desenzano, Angela probably resumed her former way 
of life, among the places and people once familiar to her. No-one has left 
a single item of information of any historical value about her way of life 
there, apart from her sharing in the work in the fields, as at the time of 
the “ladder” vision. 

We do not know upon what grounds Guerrini based his view, quite 
unsubstantiated, of a “St Angela, forced by adverse circumstances to 
leave home, and emigrate, still young in years but already mature 
through experience, to Salo and Brescia, in search of work and bread ”. 53 
Similarly, we feel we cannot accept his picture of the “painful youth of 
the orphan-girl and servant”, “driven by the needs of one left so sadly 

conduce da Salo a Desenzano sudetto, alPimboccatura d’altra stradella rimota, che porta verso il vil- 
laggio di Maguzzano. La detta stradella e luogo tutto boschivo, basso e rimoto. E la memoria di tale 
visione e sempre stata, ed e tuttavia tanto viva e costante, che nel luogo preciso della medesima si 
vede ancormo un antico capitello con immagini sacre dipinte a fresco, quali, per il lungo tempo e 
per Pintemperie delle stagioni, sonosi quasi affatto smarrite. Ma non s’e pero mai smarrita la memo- 
ria e la divozione delle genti di quel contorno, quali ivi concorrono appunto sovente, come a luogo 
di venerazione, per ivi raccomandare alia Beata i loro particolari bisogni, e si suol anche continua- 
mente da quei contadini portare al detto luogo de’ lumi ad ardere in onore della Beata, quando mas- 
sime hanno qualche disgrazia o d’infermita o di altro, recitando ivi qualche orazione. Le quali cose 
da me qui deposte circa i siti sudetti delle due visioni, oltre il saperle di mia propria scienza, sono 
ancor publiche e notorie in Desenzano”. 

50 APC. Vat. 341, f.630r. 

51 Processo Na^ari, D16. 

52 BELLINTANI, Vita, op. cit ., BQ, ms. B. VI. 30, f.[llr-v] 

53 GUERRINI, La Compagnia, op. cit., p. 1 10; “... Sant’Angela, costretta dall’avversa fortuna a lasciare 
la casa paterna, a emigrare, giovane ancora di anni ma gia matura di esperienza, a Salo, a Brescia, in 
cerca di lavoro e di pane”. 


orphaned to take up domestic service in the houses of various families”. M 

At Desenzano, Angela must have experienced the lot of the single 
woman, working in the fields in so far as it was necessary to support her- 
self, open to the needs of her neighbours on a reciprocal basis, as was the 
custom at the time of heavy work in the fields or in the case of unusual 
domestic chores. 

Her open profession of evangelical life committed her to carrying 
out the corporal works of mercy, which included almsgiving in all its 
different forms, visiting the sick and accompanying the dead to the cem- 
etery. With the spread of the confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament 
during those particular years, one could also add the accompaniment of 
the Holy Viaticum to the sick. All of this came under the general title of 
“works of charity”, carried out together with the “good word”, in the 
form of advice or admonition, of comfort, teaching or exhortation. In 
the midst of her work in the fields and in the house, Angela certainly 
gave plenty of time to these works of charity, and so her days were filled 
from morning to night. 

As for Angela’s “works of piety”, prayers, fasts, penances with dis- 
cipline and hairshirt , 55 these must have been a secret between herself and 
God. Her white linen headcovering and her name, “Sur Anzola”, gave 
her a special position in the eyes and esteem of the people, and probably 
singled her out as the person to whom one could turn in need. Accord- 
ing to Faino, Angela was known and held in esteem not only in Desen- 
zano, but also in the surrounding district, on account of her reputation 
for holiness. She often visited, among others, the Patengola family, who 
had some property at Padenghe . 56 But we do not know whether Faino is 
relying here on a trustworthy tradition, or if he is simply drawing a con- 
clusion a posteriori from the fact that later on Angela was the guest of 
Caterina Patengola at Brescia. 

It must be pointed out that Faino, and Lombardi follows him in 
this, speaks of Caterina and Girolamo Patengola as if they were husband 
and wife , 57 but, as we shall see, Caterina’s husband was called Giovan 
Battista, and Girolamo was their nephew. Therefore, the earlier informa- 
tion, on the whole, needs to be treated with great caution. 

According to Bellintani, Angela went to Brescia occasionally during 
her stay at Desenzano, where she found a warm and affectionate wel- 

54 Ibid. Prefazione, p.IX: “dolorante giovinezza di orfana e di domestica”, “sospinta dai bisogni di 
una desolata orfanezza a servizi domestici presso varie famiglie”. 

55 DIO and Dll. 

56 Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.24. 

57 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.54. 


come from several friends, 58 but there is no way of verifying the truth of 
this particular statement. On the other hand, we can reasonably assume 
that she went to Salo from time to time to fulfil her duties as a Francis- 
can tertiary, and also to visit the Bianchi family who had given her hos- 
pitality when she was young. But above all she must have spent those 
years waiting for a sign which would open to her the road she had to 
take to carry out the mission which the “vision of the ladder” had shown 
her from afar. 

58 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.V1.30, f.[llv]. 


Chapter III 


The Franciscan superiors to whom Angela, as a tertiary, was sub- 
ject, suggested that she carry out an act of charity which would entail her 
staying at Brescia at least for some time, namely to comfort the wid- 
ow Caterina Patengola, who had lost her children. Circumstances, on 
the other hand, were paving the way for her to stay permanently in this 
city, which would become her city of adoption. 

When Angela arrived at Brescia in 1516, the city was only just 
emerging from a blood-bath; it was still showing the wounds inflicted 
on it by the enemy attacks, but gradually, slowly, it was coming to life 
again. The noise of weapons had barely died away after years of wars, 
sieges, surrenders and recaptures, in a continuous series of alternating 

In a very short time, a circle of friends would gather round Angela. 
Some of them would see her living from close at hand and they would 
leave, in different ways and circumstances, the most trustworthy bio- 
graphical evidence. It is impossible for us to deal with these people in 
strict chronological order, as we cannot know the exact date when each 
one first met the “Madre Suor Angela”, as they liked to call her. 

About these friends, their life, their social position, either nothing 
was known, or the knowledge was only approximate, with the result that 
the few things attributed to them could raise some justifiable questions. 
An intensive search among the “polizze d’estimo” (PE) of the Archivio 
Storico Civico of Brescia helped us to identify them as individuals. 

In more than 420 boxes, in fact, thousands of “polizze d’estimo” are 
collected together; between the 1517 set of returns and the last set we 
studied, that of 1568, one can see an evolution in the Christian names 
and surnames. The handwriting at times is almost illegible; the language 
often requires expert knowledge to be understood. But the contents of 
these “polizze d’estimo” provided us not only with information about 
births, marriages and deaths, but also about the composition of families 
and, in certain cases, the socio-economic situation of the declarants. 
Thus, these witnesses have taken on real flesh, so that we can now see 


them living in their own time and setting, and can also correct certain in- 
accuracies about them often codified by tradition. 

In addition to the biographical information about the men- 
witnesses, we will be giving information about two women who, in a 
special way, help us to reconstruct the setting in which Angela lived. We 
will be talking about some other women when we reach the events in 
which they are more directly involved. 

a) Caterina Patengola 

The information we were able to collect together comes from the 
“polizze d’estimo”, 1 the short biography by Faino about Giustina, the 
servant-girl who later became Suor Candida in the Monastery of Santa 
Croce, 2 and the Figure of Antonio Cistellini, already referred to. 3 

The Patengola family, to which Angela had been sent, took its 
name, according to Faino, from some property they possessed at Paden- 
ghe, 4 5 a place not far from Desenzano. The house in Brescia must have 
been comfortable, but the atmosphere there was saddened by the deaths. 
Caterina, who welcomed Angela, was probably only a little older in age, 
but the painful voids in her life seemed to have spent her prematurely. 
According to the “polizze d’estimo” of 1517 and 1534, and taking into 
account the usual margin of inacccuracy in matters involving family 
dates, Caterina degli Almici di Zono, the widow of Giovan Battista 
Patengola, must have been born about 1470. She had had three children: 
Costanzo, Gandolfo and Monica. 

Costanzo was the first to die, in 1513.’ A Benedictine tertiary, after 
a short, edifying life, he had died at 22 years in the odour of sanctity. In 
1516, it was Gandolfo’s turn, struck by the same disease which had car- 
ried off his older brother. Monica had married, but it is not known 
when. In her “polizza” of 1517, Caterina declared several properties in 
Brescia and at Cellatica. Her brother-in-law, Agostino, was one of those 
who owed her money. Filling in the information about the family, she 
put down the name of her grand-daughter, Isabella, aged four and a half. 
So Monica also must have died; and what had happened to her husband, 
if their little girl came to be included in the grand-mother’s statement 
about the family? 

1 PE, n.225. 

2 Faino, “Della serva di Dio sor Candida da Como eremitana di S. Agostino nel Convento di 
S. Croce”, in Brescia Beala, op. cit., BQ, E.I.5, ff.233-237v. 

3 Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., p.49. 

4 Faino, Ibid. 

5 Cf. Faino, Ibid; Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., p.49. 


In the 1534 declaration of goods, the grand-mother will still be in- 
cluding among the debts a residue of Isabella’s dowry, which she is pay- 
ing off in annual sums of 300 lire planete: “Owing to Annibal, son of the 
gentleman Hieronimo Averoldo, 2000 lire planete, the remainder of the 
dowry of the lady Isabella, his wife; I have to pay him an annual sum of 
L.300 until this debt of the said L.2000 has been cleared”. 5 bis Isabella, 
therefore, remained a dependent of Caterina Patengola up to the time of 
her marriage, and it was Caterina who had to see to her dowry. 

In this same 1534 declaration of property, Caterina indicates the 
presence in her house of a young boy of twelve, Bartolomeo. She was 
keeping him in her house “pro amore Dei”; and was sending him to 
school with the intention of seeing that he learnt a trade: “lo mando a 
schola et lo volio metter d’imparar qualche arthe”. 

It was quite a widespread custom for “hospital-children”, in other 
words, abandoned children, to be entrusted to families in the city, to be 
brought up by them until they were of age. Caterina may well have 
followed this custom in memory of her own children who had died so 
early in life, but also as an act of Christian charity, which her financial 
position facilitated. 

A few years earlier, Caterina had had a servant, Giustina. She was a 
humble young girl from Como, who some time later, as we have said, 
had, entered the Augustinian Monastery of Santa Croce, taking the name 
of Suor Candida. Gifted with the spirit of prophecy, at the news of 
Costanzo’s premature death - according to Faino’s story — she had 
predicted that Gandolfo would follow him three years later. She had also 
predicted to Caterina that the marriage arranged for Monica would not 
take place, but that a suitable suitor would present himself later; and this, 
in fact, is what happened. 

Suor Candida had died in 1515 in the odour of sanctity. According 
to some sources quoted by Cistellini, 6 there was a picture of her on the 
south wall of the lbwer church of the monastery, with the inscription: 
“Beata Candida”. 

The presence of this little saint in the Patengola household must 
have had a beneficial influence on the spiritual direction taken by 
Costanzo, and at the same time must have contributed towards keeping 
alive in the family a spirit of piety. Her entry into the convent may have 

5bis “D e bj to con Annibal filio del domino Hieronimo Averoldo di lire 2.000 planete, resto de la 
dotta de donna Isabella sua moyer, et non ne pago livello alcuno, se non che li debio dar ditti dinari 
ogne anno L. 300 fina al compimento de li ditti L. 2.000”. 

6 Cistellini, Ibid . 


put Caterina in touch with the monastery of Santa Croce where a saintly 
Augustinian nun, Laura Mignani, was living. 7 

Did Angela Merici know Laura? Up to now there is nothing to 
prove this, but neither are there any reasons for categorically excluding 
the possibility, especially as the renown of Suor Laura was making the 
monastery of Santa Croce a centre radiating deep spirituality. Further- 
more, Caterina could well have been the intermediary in bringing to- 
gether these two souls, both captivated by the same ideal of sanctity. 

We have no details about Angela’s stay in the Patengola household, 
nor how long she stayed, or what kind of life she led there. She must 
have arrived in Brescia some time after 26 May 1516, the date when the 
restoration of Venetian rule in the city had given the region a certain 
guarantee of lasting peace after so many wars. She may have come in au- 
tumn, when the farming season was over, and after the grape-harvest in 
the vineyard which she possessed at Desenzano in the Caser district. 8 

If Romano’s memory did not deceive him about the actual date, he 
knew Angela in the Patengola household in 1517, precisely when she 
was carrying out the mission of comfort, so naturally adapted to her in- 
ner riches which would overflow into the spoken word, about which all 
the witnesses agree in describing as efficacious and persuasive. 

One can assume that Angela, standing by her principles of austerity, 
did not succumb to the luxury and comfort of the house. Very likely she 
gave a hand with the housework, as she had done at Said when staying 
with her relatives, and perhaps she used to read some page from the 
Holy Scriptures with Caterina to engage her in conversation; and then 
again she might have encouraged and helped her in distributing alms. 
But above all, she must have sustained and comforted Caterina with the 
same prospects of eternal beatitude that she would offer later to her fol- 
lowers, in the Prologue of the Rule and in her other Writings. 

b) Girolamo Patengola 

Caterina’s nephew, Girolamo, was twenty-two when Angela arrived 
in Brescia. He was single, and lived in his family house situated in the S. 
Alessandro district. His father, Agostino, was nearly sixty, and his 

7 Source of inspiration and spiritual mother of Bartolomeo Stella (prominent figure in the good 
works carried out in Brescia) and of Cajetan of Thiene, this religious counted among her corre- 
spondents Lucrezia Borgia, who became Duchess of Ferrara, and Elisabetta Gonzaga, Duchess of 
Urbino. The Duchess of Savoy had sent as a gift to Suor Laura, in 1502, a copy of the Holy Shroud 
done at Chambery {Ibid., pp.56-103 passim). 

8 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.II, 2.a. 


mother about forty. According to the 1517 declaration, living under the 
same roof were Nasimpasi (or Nascimpace), natural son of Agostino, 
aged forty; and also a housekeeper, a maid-servant and a man-servant. 
Agostino was contesting the transfer of the goods belonging to his dead 
brother, Giovanni Battista, to his sister-in-law Caterina, and affirms that 
he is unable to make a clear statement of his own property because of 
this dispute with her, stating: “As for myself, I own nothing, but every- 
thing belongs to Lady Caterina da Zona, former wife of the late Zoan 
Baptista”. 9 

By the time of the tax-return of 1534, Agostino is already dead. In 
his own statement about the household, Nascimpace puts down his wife 
Bevegnuda, fifty years old, and a servant, plus some properties at Calvi- 
sano and Castenedolo. Girolamo makes his own declaration: he is thirty- 
eight years old, is still single, and is keeping at home Stefano, Nascimpa- 
ce’s son, aged twenty-two, completely at his own expense (“cum spesa di 
tutto el suo bisogno”). He also has a man-servant, two maid-servants 
and a woman who looks after his house and farm. One of the maid- 
servants is called Flora; she is a native of Gottolengo and is forty years 
old; we will meet her again among those who elect Angela on 18 March 
1537. Girolamo declares in addition that he owns some properties in 
Brescia, at Capriano and at Gottolengo; he also possesses two saddle- 
horses for his own use. 

In his will, Girolamo would leave some of this property to the 
Company of St Ursula, so that they could enjoy it, in perpetuity, in 
return for the payment of an annual sum of money. And it was precisely 
to carry out this wish that they would all be faced with the need to 
nominate a legal representative, through whom the Company could 
carry out valid juridical acts. Thus we know that Girolamo must have 
died a little before 18 March 1537, the precise date of Angela’s election 
as legal representative. 10 

The beginning of Girolamo’s relationship with Angela can easily be 
linked to the friendship which existed between Angela and his aunt, 
Caterina Patengola. The young man could have been brought in quite 
naturally, in spite of the litigation separating his father and aunt. 

During Angela’s stay at Cremona under the protection of Agostino 
Gallo, we will find Girolamo also there; we will meet him at the bed-side 
of Angela when she is seriously ill, both of them protagonists in a scene 

9 PE, n.225: “... io non possedo niente, ma tutto possede dona Caterina da Zono, dona fo de ditto 
domino Zoan Baptista”. 

10 D6. 


which has all the flavour of the Franciscan “Little Flowers”. 11 

Among Angela’s close friends, he was the first, and for many years 
the only one who was directly involved in the Flospital for Incurables. 
On 2 May 1521, there was a meeting for the Consortium of subscribers 
for this hospital, already established “de jure” but still non-existent “de 
facto”. Besides the civil authorities appointed for this “luogo pio”, 203 
subscribers were present. The purpose of the meeting was to elect, 
among the subscribers, 125 “confratres” 12 who would form a General 
Council of the Hospital. There was a clause forbidding the choice of 
more than two people from the same family or with the same surname, 
and this inevitably restricted the choice. 

Some of the most important names of the Brescian nobility featured 
on this list; many of them appear also in the minutes of the Major Hospi- 
tal and in the decisions of the General Council of the Commune. Giro- 
lamo Patengola was the one hundred and twenty second on the list. 13 He 
was to become a member of the reduced Council on 5 May 1532.“' 

Given the number of “confratres” who made up these bodies, it is 
difficult to see in Girolamo the “co-founder” of the hospital, as one 
could be led to believe by a certain satire addressed to him by a friend in 
1529, while he was living at Cremona: “convenite Hieronymum Paten- 
glum - latentem dubii timore belli — urbe, si superis placet, Cremona”. 15 
In verse, the author, Giovanni Vincenzo Canti from Manerbio, was re- 
proaching that “scatterbrain” Girolamo with wanting to segregate the 
“incurables” in an “ignominious, miserable, small” hospital (“perigno- 
bile, egenum, pusillum”), thus threatening to dismember that very “Ospe- 
dal Grande” which was the pride of Brescia. Considered in their con- 
text, these verses are a light-hearted satire of the collaboration Girolamo 
was giving to the erection of the hospital which was still in progress. 

Girolamo has left us only one piece of written evidence concerning 
Angela Merici directly: the rhymed octave which he was hoping to place 
on her tomb and which he had read to her when she was dying; but 
when she heard the epitaph being read, contrary to all expectations, she 
was healed. The strophe, never made use of, has come down to us 
through the sworn testimony of Agostino Gallo at the “Processo Na- 
zari”. 16 

11 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.VI, 1. 

12 For the meaning of this word and its implications, cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.V, Appendix Note, c. 
11 ASB, Libro Primo delli Consigli Generali dal 1521 al 1661, Ospedale Incurabili, ff.5r-6v. 

14 Ibid. , minutes 15 May 1532, f.l7v. 

15 This satire is reported in Guerrini, La Compagnia , in S. Angela, op. cit., pp. 114-115. 

16 D16. 


c) Giovan Antonio Romano 

Certainly closer to Angela than Girolamo, Giovan Antonio Ro- 
mano was a “varotaro di Ghedi nato circa il 1494”, as is indicated on a 
note attached to the cover of one of his “polizze d’estimo”. 17 

Merician historiographers generally call him “Antonio”, but Gallo, 
in his deposition at the “Processo Nazari”, speaks of him as “messer Gio. 
Antonio Romano mercante” and the “polizze” leave no doubt: “Zua An- 
tonio” in 1534, “Gio. Antonio” in 1548, “Jo. Ant.®” in 1568. 

In 1517, the year for the declaration of patrimonial goods, Romano 
does not appear to have presented any. He could have been dispensed 
from doing so if he still had no settled residence in the town. There is a 
whole wealth of information, though, in the 1534, 1548, 1565 and 1568 
declarations. Rather surprisingly, Antonio’s age is only given approxi- 
mately: in 1534 he states that he is forty years old; he makes it sixty in 
1548, and eighty-two in 1568, thus making his date of birth fluctuate be- 
tween 1494, 1488 and 1486. His 1565 declaration does not give any infor- 
mation about family dates, but just a long list of the properties he 

We do not know which document had provided the annotator of 
the note on the cover with the date 1494 as the year of birth of the “va- 
rotaro di Ghedi”. 

At any rate, when Antonio Romano, Battista’s son, became ac- 
quainted with Angela during his frequent visits to the Patengola house 
(perhaps he had been a friend of Costanzo and Gandolfo), he was a 
young, unmarried man of about twenty-three. He may have come alone 
to Brescia; evidently he must have enjoyed a certain freedom of action as 
it was he who invited Angela to move to his house, because of his affec- 
tion for her, as he put it very simply at the “Processo Nazari”. 18 

Angela was then more than forty; she bore the official title of 
“Suor” — or rather “Sur” — as was usual with the Franciscan tertiaries. 
This title, her homespun habit and her white veil, these were the earliest 
memory that Romano preserved about his first meetings with Angela in 
the house of Dame Caterina. 

Romano did not say anything about why and how he had succeeded 
in persuading Angela to accept his hospitality, and under what condi- 
tions. By going to stay in his house, Angela was perhaps carrying out 
some mission dimly discerned at the period of her meetings with him. 

17 PE, n.115. “Varotaro” from “varus” (squirrel), a furrier? In his 1568 PE, Romano declares: “eser- 
citamo la mercantia de panni et sarze” (cloth-merchant). 

18 D16. 


According to Romano’s statement, Angela had stayed in his house 
in the Sant’Agata district “about fourteen years”. From her own lips he 
had collected together her memories of her childhood, and the story of 
the apparition of her sister, triumphant in the beatitude of heaven, that 
vision which had acted as an incentive to the life of austerity and of 
prayer she had already undertaken. 19 Antonio would also be Angela’s 
companion to the Holy Land. 

After the interlude at Cremona in 1529, Angela would not return to 
Romano’s house. Very likely her mission there was completed. The dec- 
laration for 1534 tells us that Antonio has married a certain Francesca; 
they have a little boy who is called Paolo; a niece aged ten years, Cata- 
lina, is living with them, and they have three servants working in the 
house, two men and one woman. The family unit must have been 
formed only a few years previously. Angela may have withdrawn else- 
where out of discretion, leaving the married couple free to organise their 
own family life and to see to the running of the house. 

In 1548, the couple have four children: Laurenzo aged ten years, 
Olivero aged five, Appolonario aged four, and Maria who is nine. As 
was the custom, Maria’s name comes after the boys, even though she is 
older. There is no further mention of Paolo. 

As one can see, the “polizze d’estimo” are an interesting mine of gen- 
eral information, a mirror in which are reflected the usages and customs 
of the period, and also a witness to the evolution of names. Zua Antonio 
becomes first of all Gio. Antonio darumano, and ends up being Jo. An- 
tonio de Rumani, “citizen and merchant living in Brescia”. His son Ap- 
polonario in the 1548 declaration is called Apolonio in the 1568 one, and 
Laurenzo has become Lorenzo. Only Lorenzo is married, and his little 
girl of nineteen months has a Christian name which is both a memory 
and a tribute of veneration: Angela. 

In that same year 1568, when interrogated by the notary Nazari, 
Antonio Romano, now eighty-two years old according to his own state- 
ment (seventy-four according to the note on the cover), revives his 
memories of the past. The language he uses certainly betrays his lack of 
culture, but it also shows how alive these memories were, all crowding 
together in his enthusiasm and haste to speak; and then he concludes 
with the words: “and I do not remember anything else”. 

19 Ibid. 


d) Agostino Gallo 

In 1529, when the threat of the imperial army was still hanging over 
Brescia, Angela took refuge at Cremona in the house of Agostino Gallo. 
Her stay there would be quite a short one, but eventful. On her return to 
Brescia, she would continue to enjoy Gallo’s hospitality, at least for a 
few more months. 

Agostino Gallo was born in 1499, 20 the son of Giovanni Cristoforo, 
a well-to-do cloth-merchant, and of Beatrice. Married to Cecilia Campa- 
nari, 21 he had four daughters and then a son, as is seen from the baptis- 
mal registers of San Clemente between 1532 and 1543. He had given the 
names of Angela Aurelia Ippolita to his fourth daughter, born 28 Sep- 
tember 1539. His son, Mario, born in 1534, is still inscribed in his fa- 
ther’s declaration of 1568. 22 

A member of the Academy of the Occult, under the name of “In- 
cognito”, Agostino had as his emblem a plough turning over the soil 
and extracting treasures from it, with the motto: “Veteres tellure reclu- 
dit”. 23 A great lover of country life, he later retired from his business to 
devote himself to the praise of this way of life, composing the work: “Le 
died giornate della vera agricoltura, e piaceri della Villa ”, in dialogo. In 
Brescia, appresso Gio. Battista Bozzola. MDLXIIII”. 

A man of great sincerity, in his book he conjures up, with an inno- 
cent, tranquil enthusiasm, the advantages and joys of rural life. Reprints 
of the book followed on each other, the title changing to “thirteen 
days”, and then to “twenty”. It would even be translated into French. 24 
The success of the work, though, was due, not so much to its intrinsic 
merit, as to the general deep-seated desire for a return to agricultural ac- 
tivities in contrast to those of war. 

Agostino Gallo had met Angela a number of times, but he had got 
to know her principally through his sister, Ippolita. Left a widow by the 

20 GlOVAN Maria MAZZUCHELLI, Notice intorno alia vita ed agli scritti di Agostino Gallo nobile bresciano 
estratte da Hu "Serie degli Scrittore d'ltalia ” del Conte Giammaria Mazzuchelli nobile bresciano, B.Vat. 
Fondo Vaticano Latino, 9283-XCII. 

21 Cecilia, Giambattista Tarello’s daughter, had two brothers, Agostino and Ercole, who were bell- 
founders; hence their surname of “campanari” (bell-ringers) (according to some unpublished notes 
of Paolo Guerrini in the BQ). 

22 PE, n.197. Here Agostino states that he is 70, Cecilia 68 and Mario 25. 

23 Mazzuchelli, Notice, op. cit., f.6r. 

24 A. GALLO, Secrets de la vraye agriculture, et hones tes plaisirs qu’on re foil en la mesnagerie des champs... di- 
visez en XX iournees, par Dialogues..., Paris, N. Chesneau, 1572. The Biblioteca Queriniana pos- 
sesses the 1622 copy of it. Cit. in Francesco Grasso Caprioli, Camillo Tarello, Agostino Gallo, Gia- 
como Chisgola e l’ Accademia di R esgato, in “Rivista di Storia dell’Agricoltura”, 2 die. 1982, p.64. 


merchant Dorosini in 1528 and childless, 25 the latter had turned to the 
Franciscan tertiary to assuage her sorrow. 

Later on, Agostino, together with his sister, would accompany An- 
gela on her pilgrimage to Varallo. 26 In 1568, he was to participate in 
the interrogation conducted by the notary Giovan Battista Nazari in 
preparation for the first biography of Angela Merici, and would prove 
himself to be the most clear-headed and the most analytical of the 
witnesses. 27 

e) Giacomo Cbisgola 

A first precision must be made concerning the Christian name: it is 
Giacomo and not Gian Giacomo, as was written by Rossi, 28 and repeated 
by recent authors, thereby giving rise to a certain confusion between two 
distinct people, Giovanni Chizzola and Giacomo Chizzola. We did not 
succeed in discovering how they were related to each other. Even the 
family-tree, patiently drawn up by going back through the centuries, and 
from which Baron Lothar Chizzola of Vienna kindly put a section at our 
disposal, shows some hesitation in this area and does not help to bring 
out the precise relationship between the two men. 

Antonio Cistellini, for example, makes the two Brescian noblemen 
one person, G. Giacomo, “gentleman and doctor, born in 1488, son of 
the nobleman Lodovico”, 29 and goes on to describe his brilliant public 
and diplomatic career. He adds that Gian Giacomo was attracted to the 
religious circle of Angela “whose spiritual son he was” and puts his 
name down among the first collaborators of the Hospital for Incurables. 
In reality, the councillor Chizzola who took part in the setting-up of the 
“luogo pio” was Giovanni, also a member of the General Council of the 
Commune of Brescia. At that time, namely 1521, Giacomo was a young 
man of about eighteen or nineteen. 

As for calling himself “the spiritual son” of Angela, this is an asser- 
tion that we did not find anywhere, and therefore it is not a title we can 
apply to either Giacomo or to Giovanni. The only thing we know, as we 
shall see, is that Giacomo was protector of the Company of St Ursula. 

We were able to find two “polizze d’estimo”, those of 1548 and 

25 Unpublished notes of Paolo Guerrini in the BQ. 

26 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.V, 5. 

27 D16. 

28 Ottavio Rossi, Elogi Historic i di Bresciani Ulustri , Brescia, Bartolomeo Fontana, 1620, pp.373-378. 

29 Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., pp.83-84, n.49 and p.21. 


1568, 30 which refer to Giacomo Chizzola, son of the late Lodovico. In 
the first one he states that he is 45 years old, and in the second, 66 years 
(he must have been born, therefore, between 1502-1503, while Giovanni, 
according to his 1548 PE and to the Chizzola genealogical-table, would 
have been born between 1476 and 1478). 

Giacomo does not give the name of his wife, who must have been 
about ten years younger. In 1548, they had five sons and two daughters: 
Lodovico — aged 14 years, Aurelia - 12, Paolo —11, Augustino - 9, 
Hieronimo — 7, Camilla - 5, and Gio. Battista — 2. 

In the 1568 statement, the family consists of “six male children ex- 
cluding the friar” (“sei figlioli maschi senza il frate”); Aurelia and Ca- 
milla have disappeared, but Camillo, aged 12 years and Faustino, aged 
15, have appeared on the scene. Gio. Battista is missing, so perhaps he is 
the “frate” who by then had left the family. 

Both the above-mentioned family-tree and Cistellini make a Vittoria 
Gavazzi the wife of Giacomo Chizzola. Indeed Cistellini further adds 
that she was his second wife, and that her son, Nicola, married a Stella, 
who was very likely related to Bartolomeo, the founder of the Hospital 
for Incurables. As a matter of fact, none of Giacomo’s sons is called Ni- 
cola, so this piece of information is inexact. 

The Enciclopedia Bresciana, n which distinguishes the two Chizzolas 
in two separate articles, assumes that Giacomo’s wife was called Cate- 
rina, and that, remaining a widow, she had entered the Company of St 
Ursula and would govern it as general from 1580-1583. It is true, indeed, 
that a Caterina Chizzola was superior general of the Company, 32 but it is 
difficult to see on what grounds the Enciclopedia Bresciana makes its infer- 
ence, especially as in the same article it records a mission carried out by 
Giacomo, in 1588, to protect the rights of Brescia over the waters of the 
River Oglio. In 1580, therefore, his wife could not have been either a 
widow or a superior. 

However, we know something about another Caterina Chizzola, 
who in 1534 was the widow of the doctor of law Giovan Antonio Chiz- 
zola and the mother of a Giovan Battista. Although the boy was only 
fourteen years old, it was he who had filled in the declaration-form in his 
own name, and had also given information about the properties belong- 

30 PE, for both Giacomo and Giovanni, at n.183 for 1548; Giovanni’s PE for 1534 and Giacomo’s 
PE for 1568 at n.39. 

31 Enciclopedia Bresciana, Ediz. La Voce del Popolo, Brescia 1975, art. “Chizzola”, vol.2, p.215. 

12 ASB, Fondo di Religione, Secondo Libro Cenerale, list without any date, f.40; election of i4 August 
1580, ASB, Fondo Notarile, notaio Antonio Piazza, file 2596, and Secondo Libro Generate, f.56v. 


ing to his mother, Caterina, then aged 36 years. 33 

By 1548, this Giovan Battista had already died, and so Caterina was 
left in possession of the goods that had belonged to her husband, Gio- 
van Antonio, and to her son, Giovan Battista. 34 This Caterina could well 
have been the future mother general of the Company. 

Bartolomeo Palazzo relates in his Diario that Zanantonio Chizzola 
had died 14 September 1532; 35 that in 1538 Caterina had sold him, Bar- 
tolomeo, a horse for 20 scudi; 36 and that in 1540, Caterina’s son had died 
at Padua. 37 

But the date indicated in Palazzo’s diary for the death of the hus- 
band is probably wrong, because Giovan Antonio Chizzola, who had 
been elected director of the Hospital for Incurables at the meeting held 
on 20 May 1530, appears to have died already by 15 May 1532. On that 
date, in fact, the minutes for the council-meeting of the Hospital record 
the following decision: “Et in primis posita fuit pars quod spectabilis do- 
minus Camillus Butius sindicus confirmetur, unus autem elligatur loco 
quondam spectabilis domini Joannis Antonii Chizzolae olim sindici”. 38 

Would this Giovan Antonio be the same as the one whom the 
Chizzola family-tree identifies as the son of Pietro fu Francesco, born 
in 1490? 

Giacomo Chizzola had been elected, for a period of time, protector 
of the Company of St Ursula. Now, the minutes of the Council of the 
Company, dated 31 December 1581, report the election of “four protec- 
tors, the previous ones having died”. 39 Does this mean that Giacomo 
Chizzola had already died? How then can one justify the information 
given by Pasero, according to which “Again in 1588 Chizzola defended 
the rights of Brescia at Venice, presenting the required documents from 
1037 to our own day”? 

This diplomatic mission of Giacomo to Venice in 1588 no doubt 
marked the end of a period of intense activity in the service of the city of 
Brescia, conducted by means of frequent embassies even to the Emper- 
or, 40 and there is evidence of these embassies in the private Chronicles of 

35 PE, n.183. 

34 Ibid. 

35 Bartolomeo Palazzo, Diario in Guerrini, Cronache, op. cit., p.346. 

36 Ibid., p.360. 

37 Ibid., p.365. 

38 Libro Primo delli C.onsigli Generali, cit., ff.l6r and 17v. 

39 ASB. Fondo di Religione, Secondo Libro Generate, f.l62v. 

40 Carlo Pasero, II dominio veneto fino altincendio della Loggia (1426-1575), in Storia di Brescia, op. cit., 
II, pp.383-384. 


the period. 41 All this activity, however, did not always spare him from 
accusations and disputes. 

For example, in 1546, there were circulating in the city “nonnulli li- 
belli famosi, contra spectatissimum virum D. Jacobum Chizolam”, ac- 
cusing him of partiality in his political activity. These defamatory pam- 
phlets were even sent to the imperial court, and the affair had repercus- 
sions within the General Council of the City. The one who explained the 
matter to the Council vehemently defended the cause of this man “qui 
obedientia et amore patrio ductus, posthabita tota eius familia, neglectis 
omnibus rebus suis, alicui incommodo labori damno vel periculo non pe- 
percit...”. 42 This defence, in praise of Giacomo’s civic virtues, had been 
so impassioned that it was followed by a decision to charge the Brescian 
Orators at Venice to undertake his defence before the Council of Ten. 

Bartolomeo Palazzo, in his chronicle, also mentions the appearance 
of these pamphlets: “Today 9[July 1546] certain pamphlets have been 
circulating directed against messer Iacomo Chizola, who had gone to the 
Emperor to plead the cause of the River Olio”. 43 And Pasero 44 states 
that the authors were not discovered despite a big reward promised by 
the authorities. The “affair of the River Olio” was a legal dispute be- 
tween Brescia, subject to the Serenissima, and Cremona, bound to the 
Emperor, over the possession of the waters of the river Oglio. 

The activity of Giacomo Chizzola was not only juridical and diplo- 
matic. If, as we have established, he is not the Chizzola who features on 
the list of the first councillors of the Hospital for Incurables, 45 he is men- 
tioned by name in the register of this “luogo pio” on 3 January 1535, 
when he was elected “guardian” to replace the late Scipione Provaglio. 
On the same day, Agostino Gallo was elected “massaro”, in other words, 
treasurer. 46 

Chizzola would also establish in Brescia, Rezzato and other places, 
some “academies”, a kind of boarding-school for boys. Knowing that 
Cardinal Reginald Pole was particularly interested in the one at Rezzato, 
he would send him a long account of the way it was run, using as his 

41 Cronache di Tomaso Mercanda (1532-1546) and Le Cronache Bresciane inedite dei sec. XV -XIX, 
trascritte e annotate da Paolo Guerrini, Brescia 1925, I, p.157. 

42 ASC. Provvisioni n.358, from 5-1-1545 to 24-12-1546. Minutes of 18-7-1546, ff.208v-209v. 

45 Bartolomeo Palazzo, Diario, op. cit ., p.379: “Adi 9 fonno messi certi cartelli fora in biasmo de 
messer Iacomo Chizola qual era andato da lo Imperatore per la causa de Olio”. On page 384 it says 
that Giacomo’s house was opposite St Afra. 

44 Pasero, 11 dominio, op. cit., p.384, n.l. 

45 ASB, Libro Primo delli Consigli Generali, cit., ff.5r-6v. 

46 Ibid., ff,19v-20r. 


intermediary Bartolomeo Stella, who at that time was in the service of 
the English prelate. 47 

We cannot say when Chizzola came into contact with Angela Merici 
and the Company of St Ursula; we only know that in the minutes of 
the election of the protectors, which took place on 11 November 1573, 
he is the only one left out of the four protectors previously elected, 48 and 
that he would continue in office for some time to come. His son, Ago- 
stino, was to replace him on 31 December 1581. 49 We do not know the 
date when he was first elected. 

Giacomo was not yet thirty-eight when the Foundress died, and he 
had been married less than ten years (judging from the age of his chil- 
dren). Would he, in spite of this, have fulfilled the condition laid down 
by Angela that the protectors should be chosen among “mature men”? 50 
But in 1568 he was already a protector of the Company, and had prob- 
ably been so for some years. He was only sixty-six years old and was still 
in full possession of his intellectual faculties, as he would be able to con- 
tinue in his career, it seems, for another twenty years. It was the period 
of the “Processo Nazari”, to which he was called to give evidence. His 
eldest son, Doctor Lodovico, gave evidence in his favour. 

In Giacomo’s deposition there is no allusion to memories which 
Angela might have told him in person about her childhood and youth; 
nor is there any personal reference to what he might have witnessed him- 
self about her life of penance. Regarding all this, he has “heard it said by 
trustworthy people”. It seems that he himself, though, had noticed An- 
gela’s extraordinary gift of penetrating the Holy Scriptures, her under- 
standing of Latin, her facility of speech. When the “Madre” was on the 
point of dying, he caught her last words of instruction addressed to To- 
maso Gavardo, who had accompanied him on his visit: “Do during this 
life what you would like to have done at the time of death”. 51 “And 1 
remember nothing else”, concludes Chizzola, who does not recall any 
other event or activity of Angela. 

47 Cf. Biblioteca Civica di Bergamo, Archivio Silvestri, Carte Stella, scat. 40, n.75. This subject is at 
present the theme of a study by Prof. Gian Ludovico Masetti Zannini. 

48 ASB, Secondo Lihro Generate, f. 155r. 

49 Ibid., f.l62v. 

50 R ego/a, Ch.XII, Government, D2. 

51 D16. 


f) Gabriele Covgano 

The witnesses presented so far had seen Angela living for some 
time under their roof, or they had been brought into touch with her in 
different circumstances, or again, through their frequent contacts with 
the members of the Company, they had learnt details about Angela and 
her teachings, all of which had made her even more familiar to them. 
Angela had sometimes shared her own memories with them, or with 
them had lived through some experience. But it was to someone else that 
she had reserved her most delicate confidences, informing him about her 
plan to found a spiritual family, and entrusting him with putting to- 
gether, under her dictation, her deepest, most intimate message: the Rule 
for the virgins of the Company of St Ursula, the Counsels for the “co- 
lonelle” (or district-superiors), the Legacies for the noble lady-governors 
of the Company itself. This man was Gabriele Cozzano. 

Guerrini and Cistellini call him Don Gabriele and say he was a 
priest, as Peroni had done already, and as other authors would do after 
them. 52 But in fact he was not. In all the documents where he appears, 
his name is preceded by the simple “D”: Dominus; but never by the 
abbreviation of “Reverendus Dominus”, which we usually found for 
priests. An example of this, among others, is the page from Nazari’s 
Vita in which he records the four epitaphs for the tomb of Angela Me- 
rici; the authors of these are described in the following terms: “Rev.di 
D. Valeriani Bergom. Canonici Regularis”, “Eiusdem”, “Cuiusdam de 
Zanettis legis doctoris”, “D. Gabrielis Cozzani litterarum professoris”. 
This page can be read in D17. 

Another convincing example is to be found in the notarial deed of a 
legacy that Lucrezia Lodrone left to the Company 25 April 1538, a deed 
copied in the APC from the ancient Regis tro de tutti li Instrumenti. The 
customary concluding formula says: “... rogavit me Bernadinum Gros- 

52 Guerrini, “II testo primitivo della Regola”, in S. Angela, op. cit., p.89, n.l. Cistellini, Figure, op. 
cit., p.198, n.l. In the page devoted to St Angela in ha vita reitgiosa nei secoli XV e XVI from the Sto- 
ria di Brescia already cited, pp.456-457, Cistellini calls him “don Gabriele Cozzando”. Vincenzo Pk- 
RONI, Biblioteca Bresciana , 1, p.301, quoted by Guerrini, supra, n.34. Thus, for example, Philip Cara- 
MAN, St Angela. The Life of Angela Merici Foundress of the Ursulines, 1474-1540, Longmans, 1963. An 
Italian translation of it has been made: Sant' Angela Merici. Vita della fondatrice della Compagnia di S. 
Orsola e delle Orsoline (1474-1540), Morcelliana, 1965. It is not a work which we are going to take into 
consideration, as the author has shown no critical sense. We have to say the same about the- work of 
LUIGI Rinai.DINI, Ldi^ione anastatica della Regola della Compagnia di S. Orsola di Brescia istituta da S. 
Angela Merici nel 1535, approvata da S. Carlo nel 1581, con apparato critico e riferimento a tutti i testi prece- 
denti e alle edisfoni bresciane fino a oggi. Ateneo di Brescia, 1970. But we will be returning to this work 
further on, as some points need to be clarified; we are mentioning it here because of its inaccuracies 
about Gabriele Cozzano. As for T. LedocHOWSKA, she favours the view that he was a lay-man (An- 
gela, op. cit., 1, p.99). 


sum clericum Brixiae decretorum doctorem ac notarium ut publicum de 
premissis conflciam instrumentum una cum domino Gabriele Cozalo in- 
frascripto, qui se subscriber pro secundo notario ad laudem sapientis”. 53 

A few years later, the notary Girolamo Zanetti, at the request of the 
“Giudice del Malefizio”, 54 produced a copy of the deed in question, writ- 
ing as follows: “Ego Hieronymus Zanettus... suprascriptum instrumen- 
tum rogatum per quondam reverendum dominum Bernardinum Gros- 
sium [sic] una cum suprascripto domino Gabrielo Cozalo ex eiusdem ori- 
ginali de verbo ad verbum extrahi feci... ideo auscultato, in premissorum 
fidem signo et attestatione solids subscripsi”. 55 

This statement is undated, but it goes back to the period when the 
priest Bernardino Grossi was dead, and while Gabriele Cozzano, layman, 
was still alive. 56 

The variations in the spelling of Cozzano’s surname may have made 
it difficult to identify him: de Cocialibus (D28), Cozalus (notarial deed of 
30 November 1555), Cocianus (D29), Cozzano. 

We searched in vain for his patrimonial statement; on the other 
hand, a “grammatico”, and “litterarum professor” as was written in the 
epitaph on Angela’s tomb, 57 he could have been exempt from any charge 
and tax-contribution, providing he did not exercise any other profession. 

The Statutes of 1474, 58 in fact, say: “Capo 209. De immunitate me- 
dicorum et magistrorum gramaticae. Omnes et singuli magistri gramati- 
cae et eorum familiae, videlicet patres, uxores et descendentes ex dictis 
magistris viventibus in arte magisterii praedicti, nunc et in futurum in ci- 
vitate Brixiae vel districtu, absque aliqua arte exercentibus, intelligantur 
et sint auctoritate praesentis statuti perpetuo immunes ab omnibus et 
singulis oneribus realibus, personalibus et mixtis, quocumque nomine 

It was precisely when we were leafing through the tax-returns con- 
tained in the big file n.45 that we came across the one belonging to a cer- 
tain Giacomo della Costa. Also a “maestro”, he was presenting his decla- 
ration out of obedience, although knowing that he was under no obliga- 

55 APC. Vat. 341, f.926r. 

54 Investigating magistrate of the court ... He presided over the criminal proceedings. (Cf. Guer- 
RINI, Cronache bresciatie inedite, op. cit., I, n. p. 133). 

55 APC. Vat. 341, f.926v. 

56 The fact that the “Giudice del Malefizio” asked for an authenticated copy is a proof of the legal 
actions brought at the time of the Lodrone inheritance. 

57 Cf. The epitaph for the tomb in Nazari, Vita. D17. 

58 Leges Brixianae, Brescia, ed. Britannico 1498, “Statuta Civilia” in Guerrini, Scuole e Maestri bre- 
sciani de l '500. Lettura fatta all’Ateneo di Brescia nella seduta 8 maggio 1921 e integralmente pubbli- 
cata per unanime voto accademico nei Commentari dell’anno 1921, Brescia, 1922, p.77, n.l. 


tion to do so: “1534. 111. Jacopo de la Costa, professor of grammar, liv- 
ing in the district of Santa Maria de Carmeni, I present [my declaration] 
to the officers of this district out of obedience, without renouncing 
on this account my rights to exemption granted me by the Magnificent 
Corporation and by the Statutes which have exempted me according to 
Statute no. 209 realiter et personaliter”. 58bls 

The absence of Gabriele Cozzano’s declaration prevents us from 
knowing anything about his family and economic situation. He is called 
a notary in the notarial act (not executed by him) by which Lucrezia 
Lodrone settled a legacy in favour of the Company of St Ursula in 
1538, 59 and also in the act of 30 November 1555 60 which drew up the 
terms of some of the Company’s credits. But no notarial file has been 
found in his name, or any deed drawn up by him in person. 

Angela’s personal secretary, chancellor of the Company, Cozzano 
remained linked to it at least until September 1556. We were able to 
prove this from some notarial deeds to be found at the Archivio di Stato 
of Brescia. We have just referred to the act of 30 November 1555. In the 
act of 23 November in the same year, when Ginevra Luzzago is “gene- 
ralis gubernatrix administratrix”, Gabriele Cozzano and Giulio Balteo, 
notaries, are elected procurators of the Company of St Ursula, agents, 
petitioners and defenders, “patres ad occurrentes necessitates”. 61 

On 18 September 1556, that section of the Company of which Gi- 
nevra Luzzago is “universalis gubernatrix et mater”, elects as their legal 
representative “dominum Gabrielem Cocianum, gramaticum, civem et 
habitatorem Brixiae, olim a reverenda domina Angela, institutrice seu 
fundatrice dicte Societatis..., sibi delectum scribam suorum omnium in- 
stitutorum, ac bonarum admonitionum; ac praeterea gubernatorem, et 
tamquam patrem ipsius Confraternitatis, in primis sectantes ipsius fun- 
datricis voluntatem”. 62 

In 1559, by which time Ginevra Luzzago has died, and Bianca Por- 
cellaga is the mother general of the reunited Company, 63 Cozzano’s name 
no longer appears among the agents and protectors of the Company. No 
doubt he also had died. 

58bis “1534 in Jacopo de la Costa, professor di grammatica, habitador in contrada Santa Maria de 
Carmeni ala qual produgo per obidientia sine preiudicio de li rason mie per la immunita concessa per 
la Magnifica Comunita et Statutti quali me hanno fatto immune in Statutto n. 209 realiter et perso- 

59 APC. Vat. 341, ff.924v-926v. 

60 ASB, Fondo Notarile, In solutum datio ..., notaio Girolamo Zanetti, file 1694. 

61 This is the formula, in the Italian language, used by Angela in the R egola in the chapter on gov- 
ernment. Cf. D28. 

“ D29. Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.II, 2.b. 

63 D33. 



The relationship between Angela Merici and Cozzano was certainly 
much more than that of author and scribe. He says so himself on several 
occasions: Angela “made him the chancellor to write the Rule and every- 
thing pertaining to it, and she asked him to write many other things; and 
she made him protector of this Company for him to defend it especially 
from evil doctrines and opinions, and to demonstrate to it the truth of 
her doctrine”. And he adds, with a certain conscious pride and boastful- 
ness: “another such chancellor could not have been found, because no- 
one could have understood the Foundress’ mind as I did”. 64 Doneda had 
called him “a jurist by profession”, 65 and there is no doubt that, having 
studied law, Cozzano had put his legal expertise at the service of the 
Company with vigour and generosity, as is revealed by his writings. 66 

g) Isabetta Prato 

The evidence of Isabetta Prato’s relationship with Angela Merici 
goes back to about the 1530’s, since the frescoes of the room which she 
put at the disposal of the new-born Company were dated 1533. By that 
time Isabetta was probably already a widow and free to dispose of her 
own patrimony. 

But who was Isabetta Prato? 

In 1517, in his “polizza d’estimo”, “Jo. Paulo da Prato in secunda 
Sancti Joannis” declared “donna Isabetta sua consorte de eta de anni n. 
21”. In 1534 Giovan Paolo was already dead, and the PE was drawn up 
by his widow “domina Isabetta uxor quondam domini Joannis de 
Pratho, anni 38”. 67 Neither of these two declarations makes any reference 
to Isabetta’s maiden name. 

The discovery of a pontifical document (of which more will be said 
later) suddenly suggested to us to check the surname Prato with that of 
Bargnani. Following this track, we found in the 1517 PE of “Vincenzo 
da Bargnano in Cittadella Vecchia a la piazza del Novarino”, 68 the entry 
of an “Isabetta mia filiola da marito”, without any indication of age. 

Two later “polizze” throw light on the situation: 

1548: “madona Isabetta di Bargnani et consorte del quondam domino 
Zoan Paulo da Prato in Citadella nova, anni 45” (PE, n.12 and n.164); 

M Cozzano, Dichiara^ione. D24, [f.979v]. 

65 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.80. 

66 Cf. infra, Pt.Ill, Ch.I and Ch.II, passim. 

67 PE, n.110 and n.231. 

68 PE, n.164. 


1568: “madonna Isabetta di Bargnani consorte del quondam messer Gio- 
van Paulo di Prati, anni 66” (PE, n.164). 

The apparent contradiction between the two PE of 1517 now ex- 
plains itself; they were both, in fact, declaring the same person, Isabetta 
Bargnani who, in the course of the year, had married Giovan Paolo da 

There is a discrepancy of almost six years in the ages given in the 
various declarations, making her date of birth vary between 1496-1497 
and 1502-1503, according to whether she filled in the form under the 
name of Prato or that of Bargnani. 

At first one could easily have thought that two separate people were 
involved here. But the adjacent properties of a certain estate “alle Chiu- 
sure sopra S. Bartolomeo” (belonging to “Hieronimo Feroldo fisico e 
Alovisio fu Agostino Campolo) and other constants 69 which are found 
in both the 1534 “polizza” of Isabetta Prato and the 1548 and 1568 “po- 
lizze” of Isabetta Bargnani, rule out any hypothesis about someone else 
with the same name. 

Isabetta belonged to a family owning extensive, rich-yielding lands; 
she entered the Prato family, the members of which, according to Pan- 
dolfo Nassino, were “parolari”, that is, coppersmiths. 70 We also found at 
Salo, in the catastico of 1524, some “Heredes magistri Augustini da 
Prato parolarii”. 71 

Giovan Paolo (or Gian Paolo), Isabetta’s husband, also had some 
profitable properties, for example, at Coccaglio - with about 23 hec- 
tares 72 and containing a good vineyard - and at the Chiusure near S. 
Bartolomeo - with another 7 hectares of arable land. The wind-mill in 
this last-mentioned place, however, had suffered damages: “It is now 
ruined by the wars and brings me in nothing”. 73 Taken as a whole, 
though, the situation here was economically very sound. 

According to the information given by Pandolfo Nassino, Gian 
Paolo’s two brothers were Gian Andrea and Gian Francesco. One of 
their sisters had married a certain Julio Cizola 79 - would he be the Giu- 
lio Chizzola who features in the Chizzola genealogical tree as being born 

69 As, for example, the existence of leases with the Asti, the Luzzago, the Fisogno, the Bargnano 
families; these are to be found in the declarations of 1534, 1548 and 1568; as also the property at 
Coccaglio mentioned in 1517, 1534 and 1548 and the one which is situated in the mountains on the 
island of Lake Iseo, in 1534 and 1548. 

70 Nassino, R egistro, op. cit ., p.719. 

71 AACS, reg.n.200, E xtimus MDXXI1II, f.45v. 

72 PE, n.231, year 1517. 

73 Ibid., “al presente e ruinato per le guerre et non ne cavo niente”. 

74 Ibid., Gian Paolo still had to pay 800 lire to his brother-in-law to complete the dowry. 


in 1489? 75 Gian Francesco had had two daughters, both married, one 
with a Zanetti and the other with a Fenaroli. 76 

The names of the two brothers, Gian Andrea and Gian Francesco, 
appear frequently in the lists of the General Council of the Major Hospi- 
tal of Brescia. Later, though, Gian Andrea was imprisoned on 26 No- 
vember 1530, and then banished, for minting counterfeit money. 77 

In her 1534 tax-return, made in her own name, Isabetta Prato, 78 
now a widow, states that she has a house for her own use in Brescia, in 
the piazza of the Cathedral. She paid the Canons of the Cathedral a rent 
of one lira planeta and 10 soldi for the rent of the garden. We found the 
record of this payment in a register of the Archivio Capitolare of 
Brescia. 79 

We do not know when the Prato couple, or perhaps Isabetta when 
she was a widow, moved to this residence which is not mentioned in the 
1517 “polizza”. In any case, the site of the house “sula piaza del Dorn” is 
important. On account of its central position, Isabetta offered Angela a 
meeting-place there for her first followers, in a large room which has 
passed into Merician historiography under the name of the “Oratory of 
Isabetta Prato”. 

Carlo Doneda collected together some information and recollec- 
tions about this from his contemporaries: The oratory “lies, as I have 
said, in the Cathedral square, inside a house, the door of which stands 
opposite a public building called the Munition del Principe. It is bounded 
on the west by the stout walls of the very ancient, original fortifications 
of the City, and these form the wall of that side of the building. Faino 
has written that the oratory was situated on top of the old embankments 
of the City itself, and what he said is true. But the house passed from the 
hands of the above-named Giambatista Bianchi, into the possession of 
the Chiodi family, and they had the embankment taken down, and all the 
soil removed; thus it was underneath the said oratory that a room was 
built on the ground floor; on the south side of this same room there re- 
mains a small courtyard, from which one can reach the aforesaid room, 
namely the oratory, by climbing a small flight of steps. I was told these 
things by some very old people who know the place well ... It seems, 
moreover, that to bring the same oratory back into purely secular use, it 
had to be shortened on the north side ... At present it is about 14 feet 

75 Genealogical table cited., ms. 

76 NASSINO, R egistro, op. cit., p.719. 

77 PASERO, 11 dominio veneto, op. cit., p.319. 

78 PE, n.110 and n.231. 

79 AC, B.56, f.!3v. 


wide from east to west, and 16 feet long”. 80 

Paolo Guerrini adds some further topographical information about 
the Prato house, referring to what Brescia was like before the Second 
World War: “This house is situated opposite the old Cathedral (“Duomo 
Vecchio”); its present boundaries are 2, Via Trieste; 13, piazza del 
Duomo; 1, Via XI Febbraio and 13, Via X Giornate. It belongs to the 
shopkeepers Oliveri and Manzoni. The entrance used to be at the top of 
a large flight of steps leading from the Cathedral square. It was protected 
by three iron gates surmounted by a hanging garden, which disappeared 
not more than fifty years ago when the building underwent its last trans- 
formation. Climbing this flight of steps, one reached the embankment 
of the old Roman walls; on the right was the entrance to the cannon 
foundry, or Venetian Arsenal, while opposite, on the left, was the building 
we have been talking about”. In a note Guerrini adds: “There used to be 
some houses there belonging to the Canons of the Cathedral, that is, a 
part of the ancient cloister of the presbytery which used to occupy all the 
area comprised today between the top of Via Trieste, the big archway of 
the bishop’s house, the small Paganora square and the Grand Theatre. 
The Canons had their houses on this vast area, together with the stables 
for their horses, their vegetable-gardens and even some stationes, or 
shops, which they used to hire out to traders”. 81 

It was in this house in the Cathedral square that Isabetta Prato 
would get ready the oratory where Angela was to hold her meetings. She 

80 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp. 147-148: “Giace, come dissi, presso la piazza del Duomo dentro una 
casa, la cui porta sta dirimpetto ad una fabbrica pubblica, che si chiama la Munition del Principe. Suo 
confine da sera sono le forti mura dell’antichissimo primo recinto della Citta, le quali servono ad 
essa di parete da quella parte. II Faino scrisse che l’oratorio era piantato sopra gli antichi terrapieni 
della Citta medesima, e scrisse il vero. Ma entrata, dopo il sopranominato Giambatista Bianchi, al 
possesso della Casa la famiglia Chiodi, questa fece disfare il terrapieno, e condur via tutta la terra; 
onde sotto il detto oratorio fu fabbricata una stanza terranea, e a mezzodi del medesimo vi resto una 
corticella, dalla quale per mezzo di una breve scala si sale alia detta stanza o sia oratorio: le quali cose 
mi sono state narrate da persone molto attempate, e pratiche di quel sito... Sembra inoltre che l’ora- 
torio medesimo, nel rimetterlo ad uso totalmente profano, sia stato raccorciato dalla parte di tra- 
montana... Presentemente e largo da mattina a sera circa 8 braccia, e dieci lungo”. 

81 Guerrini, ha Compagnia, op. cit., pp. 119-120: “Questa casa si trova di fronte al Duomo Vecchio; 
e ora limitata da via Trieste n. 2, piazza del Duomo n. 13, via XI Febbraio n. 1 e dai Portici di via X 
Giornate n. 13. Appartiene ai negozianti Oliveri e Manzoni, e aveva anticamente I’ingresso da uno 
scalone che saliva dalla piazza del Duomo, protetto da tre cancellate sormontate da un giardino pen- 
sile, scomparso da non oltre cinquant’anni nella trasformazione piu recente subita dall’edificio. Sa- 
lendo lo scalone e arrivati sul terrapieno delle antiche mura romane, a destra si trovava l’ingresso 
alia fonderia dei cannoni, o Arsenale veneto, a sinistra e di fronte si trovava l’edificio di cui par- 
liamo”. “Quivi erano anticamente alcune delle case dei canonici del Duomo, cioe una parte dell’an- 
tico chiostro della canonica, che occupava tutta I’area compresa ora fra l’inizio di via Trieste, il vol- 
tone del vescovato, la piazzetta di Paganora e il Teatro grande. Su questa vasta area i canonici ave- 
vano le case di abitazione, le stalle dei cavalli, le ortaglie e anche alcune stationes o botteghe, che si 
davano in affitto a mercanti”. 


herself, however, would not be among the five lady-governors of the 
Company who were elected on 18 March 1537. This may have been due 
to the fact that, at that particular time, Isabetta was still very busily en- 
gaged in the field of apostolic relief works. 

Two documents, already known moreover, make reference to Isa- 
betta Prato’s charitable work: the Annali del Luogo Pio delle Conver- 
tite cio'e della Carita, quail principiano dall’anno 1532 e continuano fino al 
17. ..[sic] - we have already spoken about the sketchy basic historical 
documentation of these Annals 82 - and the “Vita di Laura Gambara” by 
Faino in his Brescia Beata , 83 where the name of “Elisabetta Prata” has 
been added in the margin. Laura Gambara and Isabetta Prato, therefore, 
would both have been involved in the work of gathering together peni- 
tent women and orphan-girls; they would unite them later in the “luogo 
pio” which would be called “della Carita”. And it is to this “luogo pio” 
that Laura Gambara bequeathed her own house, in a will dated 1537, 
and she transferred there all those under her protection in 1538. 

The Annals relate: “On the 10th day of March, in the year 1532 of 
our salvation, they began to gather together young orphan-girls to lodge 
them in the new Hospital of the Casa della Carita [in fact, this new hos- 
pice would not be ready for them until much later]; and they installed 
them in the house belonging to the nobleman Count Leonardo Marti- 
nengo, a house which was situated on the Mercato Nuovo, and which 
had been rented for that purpose; Lady Isabetta Prato and Lady Dami- 
sella di Rossi were put in charge of them. In the same way they began to 
gather in young penitent women, and on the 16th day of November, the 
orphans and women were taken from the above-named house and led to 
the house of messer Marc’Antonio Bombardiero, 84 situated above the 
piazza of the Duomo, and which had been rented by messer Gieronimo 
Pattengolo, the first treasurer at that time”. 85 

82 Cf. supra, Pt.I, Ch.I, 2.c. 

FAINO, “Della Serva di Dio la contessa Laura Gambara fondatrice del pio luogo detto della Ca- 
rita...”, in Brescia Beata , BQ, ms.E.1.2. p.413. 

“ We found the “polizza” of a certain Antonio, fu mastro Giovanni Bombardieri; it belongs to the 
year 1534 and is classified in the folder PE n.22. Among the goods declared: “una casa in Broletto 
per uso mio et fito”. 

5 Annali della Carita, cit., f.[2r]: “L’anno di nostra salute 1532, alii 10 di marzo, principiarono a rac- 
cogliere delle giovani orfane per locarle nell’Ospital nuovo della Casa della Carita [in realta questo 
nuovo ospizio non sarebbe stato disponibile che molto piu tardi], et furono messe nella casa del no- 
bilhuomo conte Leonardo Martinengo, qual era situata sul Mercato Nuovo, presa ad affltto per 
quest’effetto; e furono poste al governo di esse madonna Isabetta da Prato e madonna Damisella di 
Rossi. Cosi pure si diede principio a raccogliere delle giovani peccatrici, ed alii 16 di novembre fu- 
rono levate dalla sudetta casa le orfane e convertite, et furono condotte nella casa di messer Marc’ 
Antonio Bombardiero sopra della piazza del Duomo, qual fu presa ad affitto da messer Gieronimo 
Pattengolo all’ora primo depositario”. 


In spite of a few errors, 86 this text provides us with some material 
from which we can get a rough idea of the social activity Isabetta Prato 
was engaged in at that particular time, and it also helps us to place this 
activity in some kind of local context. 

And so, from March to November 1532, Isabetta would have been 
working together with Laura Gambara in gathering the penitent women 
(first priority for Laura in her work of charity) and some orphan-girls 
(probably in moral danger) in the house of Leonardo Martinengo; in 
November, all these would be transferred to the Bombardiero house. 

Round about the same time, two events took place, very different in 
importance and in character: Laura Gambara had her house adapted so 
that she could accommodate those under her care, and in addition she 
took steps to see that a petition reached the Pope beseeching some 
spiritual favours for the newly-found work. The petition was signed as a 
whole by the “Reggitori dell’Ospedale degli Incurabili” and by two 
Brescian petitioners: Laura Gambara and Elisabetta Bargnani. 

The “luoghi pii” were subsidised by public charity and private alms 
and, as was the accepted custom, their councillors were chosen from 
among the best qualified citizens. But this work of the “Carita” seems to 
have come into being entirely through the initiative and at the expense 
of Laura Gambara, who would be in charge of it until 1549 8 ' when, be- 
fore her death, she entrusted it to the Governors of the Hospital for In- 
curables. It is likely that, from the beginning, the latter had some moral 
responsibility since they also had signed the petition to the Pope. We 
gather this from the Bull discovered in the Register of Paul Ill’s secret 
Bulls, and dated 3 August 1535. 88 It had been asked for by the “dilecti fi- 

86 The rescue-work of the penitent women began in 1530; it was the work of Laura Gambara, 
widow of Count Marc’ Antonio Secco d’Aragona (Annati. f. [ 1 r] ; Faino, “Della Serva di Dio” cit., in 
Brescia Beaia cit., f.415). In 1532, Girolamo Patengola was a member of the smaller Council of the 
Hospital for Incurables, but the function of “first treasurer” which is attributed to him here does not 
exist in the vocabulary then in use. As for the expression “Ospital nuovo della Casa della Carita”, it 
refers to the hospice recently opened in the house “della Carita”. 

87 FAINO, “Della Serva di Dio” cit., in Brescia Beata cit., f . 4 1 5 ; Faino cites the epigraph inscribed in 
1642 on the building; “Qui locum hunc a Charitate intueris Laurae Gambarae comitissae — charita- 
tem quae fundavit anno MDXXX cognosce Civitatisque Providentiam quae Hospitalis a Pietate 
Praesidibus - commendavit regimen MDXXXXIX praedica...”. In 1548, the little orphans had al- 
ready been transferred to the Ospedale Grande (L ibro Primo delli Consigli Generali cit., f.29v). 

88 Bull “Regimini” of Paul III, dated 3 August 1535, ASV, Reg. Vat. 1693, ff.lOr-llr. [19r-20r]; 
“Pro rectoribus Hospitalis Incurabilium Brixien. et Laura de Gambara ac Elisabecta de Bargnanis, 
etiam Brixien. Confirmatio statutorum et ordinationum super gubernio mulierum convertitarum, 
f. 19” in Indice 288 cit., f.249r [237r] . The Bull presents the new institution as follows; “... praefatis 
mulieribus ac nonnullis aliis nobilibus civibus civitatis intervenientibus, orphanae et aliae mulieres 
poenitere volentes... in magno numero coadunatae et in duabus separatis domibus [it was like this 


lii rectores hospitalis incurabilium Brixiensis et dilectae in Christo filiae 
Laura de Gambara ac Helisabeth de Bargnanis mulieres etiam Bri- 
xienses...” who as well as other noble citizens were concerned about the 
poor orphans and repentant prostitutes. 

The Pope approved the statutes and the rules of this institution on 
behalf of the penitent women and the orphans, gave permission for new 
ones to be made, and granted certain privileges. 

But in 1534, Isabetta had declared her goods, both debit and credit, 
under the surname of Prato. It is not easy to see how, about the same 
period, her name is given as Bargnani in the petition; nor does this name 
ever appear in the documents of the Company known to us. For the 
Company and for all the civil and canonical acts connected with it, there 
exists only “Isabetta Prato”. “Isabetta Prato”, for Angela, too, when the 
“Madre” numbers her among the matrons to whom her Testament is 

For the moment, there is nothing to throw any light on the kind of 
relationship which existed between Angela and Isabetta. Angela herself 
would certainly have given the young widow spiritual guidance, encour- 
aging her to support Laura Gambara in the work she was doing to pro- 
tect women and to reintegrate them into society. But in all the documen- 
tation we studied about this charitable organisation, we found no allu- 
sion, even indirect, to Angela Merici. 

Witnesses and biographers have all recognised Angela’s amazing ca- 
pacity for adapting herself to everyone who spoke to her. This gift must 
have been exercised, surely, by the advice and spiritual inspiration she 
offered, especially to those who were closest to her, beginning with 
those fervent and hard-working lay-people, of which the matrons of the 
Company would be a good example: each one in her own family and 
social setting, and also collectively for the good of the virgins of St 

Having said this, it does not seem necessary to us to accept Guer- 
rini’s conclusion. He was the first to involve Angela Merici in some way 
in the works of charity of Laura Gambara and Isabetta Prato: “Angela 
Merici’s name does not appear in the context of these charitable works; 
but she was certainly not missing from them, as is clearly indicated by 
the names of Elisabetta da Prato and Girolamo Patengola, who are 
among her closest collaborators in other works of a similar kind, faithful 
interpreters of her ideal of the Christian redemption of Brescian young 

at the beginning] in ipsa civitate Rectorum Hospitalis Incurabilium dictae civitatis gubernio et regi- 
mine reductae ac reclusae fuerunt...”. 


girls and women at that period of time when, mixed with the ferments of 
so much widespread and worrying evil, there were not lacking, through 
God’s providential disposition, so many seeds of life and of goodness”. 89 

Guerrini refers to “other works of a similar kind”, but he does not 
elaborate what they were, and so he opens the door to suppositions and 
inferences which, even today, cannot be documented. 

In the Annali della Caritd, next to Isabetta’s name we found that of 
Damisella di Rossi. In her 1548 “polizza”, Isabetta declares that she has 
living with her “dona Damisella de anni 60” (she then crosses it out be- 
cause “decessit”) and also a “sor Chaterina del Terzo Ordene de anni 27” 
(adding: “it must be known that the said Sor Chaterina is ill with an in- 
curable disease”). The two women were living with Isabetta, not as 
servants but as paying-guests. In 1568, Sor Chaterina is still alive, but 
she has been an invalid for a year; this time, Isabetta declares that she is 
keeping her at her own expense. 

But in 1534, apart from the usual domestic staff, Isabetta had de- 
clared that she had in her house, completely at her expense, “two girls 
whom she wants to marry off’ (“doye pute quale la le vole maridar”). 
Was this the customary good work on behalf of the “young girls of the 
Hospital” (that is, those abandoned) entrusted to families who accepted 
to bring them up or to take them in as servants? Or was it a case of 
Isabetta taking in two little orphan-girls who, for some reason, had re- 
mained with her instead of going to the house “della Carita”? 

We will meet Isabetta Prato again among the number of matrons to 
whom Angela will dedicate her Testament; 90 later still, with surprise, we 
will meet her with the party of Lucrezia Lodrone, who wanted to intro- 
duce the use of the cincture and other innovations, 91 instead of remaining 
with Ginevra Luzzago who tried so hard to defend Angela’s original 
idea; we will see her once more, short-listed with Veronica Buzzi in the 
1555 elections, 92 and finally, in 1572, when she herself will be elected 
mother general of the Company. 93 She will hold this position until her 
death in July 1580. 94 

89 Guerrini, l -a Compagnia , op. cit ., pp. 116-117: “In questa benefica attivita non appare il nome di 
Angela Merici; ma essa non vi e stata certamente assente, e ce lo indicano chiaramente i nomi di Eli- 
sabetta da Prato e di Girolamo Patengola, che sono fra i piu vicini collaborator! della Merici in altre 
iniziative dello stesso genere, interpreti fedeli del suo ideale di redenzione cristiana della gioventu 
femminile di Brescia, in quel medesimo periodo di tempo, nel quale tra i fermenti del male cost 
diffuso e preoccupante non mancano, per provvidenziale disposizione divina, tanti germi di vita e 
di bonta”. 

90 D5. 

91 Secondo Libro Generate , f.35r. 

92 Ibid., f.54v. D26. 

95 Ibid., ff.55v-56r. 

94 Ibid., f.40r. 


Isabetta Prato did not leave any testimony about Angela Merici as a 
person, but her gift of the oratory witnesses to her devoted admiration 
for the “Madre” and to her own active participation in the realisation of 
Angela’s work. 

h) Two minor witnesses 

Two other eye-witnesses, Bertolino Boscoli and Canon Don Gia- 
como Tribesco, have left us some precise information. 

Don Tribesco must have known Angela when she went to live at St 
Afra; she had told him something about her life of penance and 
some memories of her own youth at Salo. In 1591, he had put these sou- 
venirs together in written evidence; we have already quoted from this 
testimony. 95 We also know his Trattato del modo di vivere d’una Dimessa, 9b 
published in Padua in 1589, in which he sketched the ideal profile of the 
virgin of the Company of St Ursula. 

Bertolino Boscoli was the second of the witnesses of the “Pro- 
cesso Nazari”; his testimony reveals the sincerity and honesty of the 
man. He recalls the reputation for sanctity and sobriety which surround- 
ed Angela even while he himself was still a young boy; he remembers 
that sometimes he used to go and see her, and he tells the story of the 
episode in Angela’s life that had struck him most: the ecstasy she had 
had in the church of San Barnaba, when under their very eyes, the on- 
lookers had seen Angela raised from the ground, and he concludes: 
“And I do not know what else I can say, nor do I remember anything 
else concerning the said ‘Madre Suor Angela’ ”. 97 It is evident that, in his 
simplicity and moral integrity, Bertolino has not consulted the other wit- 
nesses, nor has he tried to find out information from others who had 
known Angela. He is quite content to relate what he saw with his own 
eyes when he was about sixteen years old. 

In 1568, the year of the “Processo” and also of the tax-returns, Ber- 
tolino filled in his own “polizza”: 98 son of the late “Girardo di boschi 
alti”, “maringono” (that is, a carpenter or blacksmith), he is 50 years old; 
Caterina, his wife, is 45 years; their sons, Gianmaria and Battista, are 30 

” D25. 

96 Giacomo Tribesco, Trattato breve del santo vivere che tener debbe una virgine posta nello stato delle De- 
messe. Composto per il R.P.D. Giacomo Tribesco Bresciano Can. Reg. Lat. Distinto in quattro Capi- 
toli. Con una santa essortatione dopo li Capitoli dal Autore gionti. In Padova, appresso Lorenzo 
Pasquati Impressor de I’Alma Universita de’Legisti, 1589. 

97 D16. 

98 PE, n.26. 


and 28 respectively. Both of the sons are married; both of them act as 
witnesses to the deposition of Antonio Romano as well as that of their 
own father. 

The minutes of the notary Nazari, at the opening of the process, call 
them “omnibus de Boscoldis de Ottalengo habitatoribus Brixiae”; but 
then the minutes which introduce Bertolino’s deposition call him “de 
Boscolis de Ottalengo”, and it is as “Boscoli” that he has entered Meri- 
cian historiography. The two surnames, “Boscoli” and “Boscoldi” could 
both be equally accurate. The second one, in fact, could have originated 
from the local pronunciation of the nickname given to Bertolino’s father, 
Girardo “di boschi alti”. 

Their village of origin, Othalengum in the 15th century, was de- 
rived from an earlier Guttulengum in the 11th century, and Gottolengh 
in dialect or Otalengh, would become Gotalengo in the 16th century. 
Today it is called Gottolengo and is situated between Leno and Gam- 

These Boscolis did not have Brescian citizenship, but they resided 
in the provincial capital, according to Bertolino’s statement in 1568. 

Thirty-four years had passed from the time when, as a young boy, 
he had seen Angela in ecstasy, but he had never forgotten the event, 
struck as he was with wonder and admiration at the sight; he related the 
story in his own simple, unrehearsed language, but always with the same 
sense of marvel and wonder. 

99 ArnALDO GnAGA, Vocabolario topografico-toponomastico della Provincia di Brescia, Ateneo di Brescia, 
appendice ai Commentari per I’anno 1936, p.296; DANTE OLIVIERI, Disponario di Toponomaslica lom- 
barda , 2 a edizione riveduta e completata, Casa ed. Ceschina, Milano, 1961, p.265. 


. • 


Chapter IV 


The testimonies of Romano, Gallo and Cozzano are the most useful 
and valid ones for reconstructing the daily life Angela led during her 
years in Brescia. The first two, as eye-witnesses, have left direct evidence 
of what they had seen happening under their own eyes, while the secre- 
tary of the “Madre” presents things from a different angle. 

The events which they relate, or to which they refer, have their deep- 
est explanation in the spiritual orientation of Angela’s own life, but we 
are not going to dwell on this here. We are going to deal with the events 
from the historical point of view so that we can place them in their con- 
text, and also complete or add to the information which earlier historiog- 
raphy had only dealt with in an approximate manner, or had even totally 

a) The “apostolic” life 

Gabriele Cozzano describes Angela Merici’s life as “apostolic”. To- 
wards the end of the 16 th century, this word acquired the meaning 
which it retains today, and clearly influenced by this, we immediately 
think in terms of an activity carried out by Angela to spread the “good 
news” in her surroundings; in other words, we think of what we call 
“apostolate” today. But this is not the real meaning of the adjective 
“apostolic” when it is used in the pre-Tridentine language. While we 
tend to think of apostolic life as being institutional and involving a cer- 
tain well-planned and organised pastoral concern, in pre-Tridentine 
thinking the expression quite simply refers to the Apostles and to Tradi- 

Thus, compared with the modern sense, the word “apostolic” under 
Cozzano’s pen has a specific and unique content. For him, “apostolic” is 
something which can be assimilated by analogy to the “sequela Christi”, 
as it was carried out by the twelve apostles while continuing to live in 
the world, and as it was lived by the first disciples and first Christians, 
following and imitating their example. 


Unlike Gallo and Romano, Gabriele Cozzano had been much more 
than a host and an observer; his conversations with Angela used to range 
far beyond the current problems of daily life, even though this life was 
fully open and attuned to the slightest echo concerning people and 
things happening in Brescia. We are speaking here of the conversations 
about that ideal of life which Angela would propose to her daughters aft- 
er having embodied it, day after day, year after year. Cozzano might not 
have understood its implications in all their richness and variety, and he 
might not have grasped the full mystical meaning of the gift of self 
understood as nuptial relationship with the Son of the Most High, as 
taught by the “Madre”, but even so he had intuited its sublimity. 

When later, after the Foundress’ death, he sets out the programme 
of evangelical life which she had proposed to the virgins of the Company 
of St Ursula, he will be able to say, after he has gone through its main 
points: “Such was the kind of life led by the Foundress of this Com- 
pany”, and “She was this kind of person”. 1 

Cozzano will excuse himself for not being able to spend time writ- 
ing about the life of Angela by saying that he has too much to do, but at 
least he will leave behind a clear testimony of the Merician way of living 
the evangelical message without shutting oneself away behind the walls 
of the cloister. 

And it is precisely this specific way of living that he describes as 
“apostolic”: “life according to that lived by the Apostles and early 
Church”, “early, apostolic life”, “the most perfect life there has ever been 
or ever will be, because it is continuing what was the flower of all lives. 
The life of St Martha, of St Thecla, of all the first flowers of the 
Holy Church, and especially of the Madonna”. 2 A life following Christ, 
in obedience to the Holy Spirit, interior guide and teacher, in detach- 
ment from earthly goods which are used in a spirit of poverty; a life of 
toil, earning one’s living. A life in the world conforming to “that model 
of life which Jesus Christ, coming forth from the bosom of the Father, 
brought from heaven. And which he wanted to live. Such is the life fol- 
lowed by his Apostles. And the martyrs. And so many beautiful virgins 
of the primitive Church. And above all the Madonna”. 3 

Thus a life “active, but with the mind always raised heavenwards”; 
an absolute dependence on superiors in the use of goods or in their dis- 
tribution “for the perfect mortification and the total abnegation of one- 
self’; a fidelity to the duties proper to one’s state of life, without losing 

1 Cozzano, Kisposta, D23, ff.37r; 51r. 

2 Ibid, ff.llr-v; 31v. 

} Ibid. ff.42r-v; 37r; 49v-50r. 


that special peace of mind of one who places one’s trust in the “peaceful 
help and consolation of the Holy Spirit”; a “height of contemplation” 
which does not take one’s mind off the daily activity, and an attention to 
duty which does not distract one from experiencing the things of God. 

Cozzano insists particularly on this synthesis of contemplation and 
action, on this harmony between the supernatural dimension, which 
penetrates the human dimension, and the human dimension itself, 
concealed in the hard work of the daily reality. But in the use he makes 
of the term “apostolic”, we do not find any explicit connection with the 
spread of the Christian ideal through preaching or witnessing to a truly 
evangelical life. 

The portrait of the Ursuline virgin, modelled on that of the “Ma- 
dre”, thus seems to be fixed for ever with a special attention to the 
inner life. 

Two notations, however, two direct references to Angela, give 
substance to a profile which at first sight would appear to be a simple 
outline; they throw light on the most concrete exterior expressions of 
her life. 

Cozzano, speaking about the spirit of poverty, says that St Paul 
the apostle, “although he was able to live legitimately by the Gospel, as 
others had done, wanted to earn his living by working ”. 4 Then he imme- 
diately adds: “Such was the kind of life led by the Foundress of this 
Company”. We have in front of us here an exact parallel, which up to 
now has scarcely been noticed. It is perhaps the only direct reference we 
have of this kind, but as it is to be found in Cozzano’s Kisposta , which 
seems to have been unknown at the time-of the process of beatification , 5 
such a reference remained unheeded; and so we are left with the fixed 
stereotype of a saint who had lived on alms. 

According to Cozzano, though, Angela earned her living by work- 
ing. Nothing specific is said about the nature of this work. This very si- 
lence of the direct witnesses leads us to think that it was a matter of such 
ordinary occupations that they passed unnoticed: giving some help with 
the household chores, or perhaps some sewing or spinning, the kind of 
work done by women of humble means, so normal as to warrant no spe- 
cial mention. Such as we have imagined happening during her stay in the 
Patengola household was very likely repeated when she stayed with An- 
tonio Romano and later on. 

4 I Cor. 9:13-18 and Acts 18:3. Kisposta, D23, f.37r. 

5 In fact, it is not to be found among the documents referred to and examined in the course of 
the process. 


In the same document, there is a second parallel to which Cozzano 
returns with insistence, namely the link between the Company’s form of 
life and that of the Apostles and the early Christians, in contrast with the 
following of Christ as carried out in the convents. And here the author, 
exasperated by the crisis the Company passed through when the tempta- 
tion to withdraw into the enclosed monasteries was gaining ground, 
launches into a polemic. But at the same time, while he is comparing the 
two different ways of life, indirectly he is drawing attention to the daily 
problems confronting the virgins: “with their own hands they have to 
earn their living, and live by their daily toil”(f.8r); “they spend money, 
not according to their own will, but according to who governs”; “those 
who have nothing live joyfully, day by day, for having all the more rea- 
son to be dependent solely on God through faith and hope”(f.llv); they 
live a virginal life in the world in the midst of dangers; they know the 
difficulty of using their own liberty wisely. Then, comparing this form 
of life with the one lived in the cloisters, Cozzano finally finds the key 
phrase: “And so the Apostles, and so many other martyrs, virgins and 
confessors, in the midst of the labours they were undertaking for the one 
and pure love of God, were at a much higher level in God than others 
ever were who, freed from the affairs of the world, devoted themselves 
entirely to contemplation”(f.51r). All things considered, there is only one 
good work: to carry out the duties imposed by everyday life, but to see 
them through, strengthened with the one and pure love of God. “Such is 
the life of this Company. Of such a kind was the Foundress. That celes- 
tial virgin has been a new apostle in our age of corruption”. 

“New apostle”, according to Cozzano, on account of her way of liv- 
ing the “sequela Christi” while continuing to remain in the world, and 
for having thus restored that way of life which had been the patrimony 
of the early Christian Church. 

But also, and we are saying this today, through the way she used to 
face daily life “sub specie aeternitatis”, which could not have passed un- 
noticed by those around her or left them unimpressed. 

Welcoming the message which came to them through the example 
and words of the “Madre”, her daughters would be able to claim for 
themselves the dignity of spouses of Christ without entering a cloister; 
herein lies perhaps the most interesting socio-religious implication be- 
cause it touches on the promotion of women. Apostles in their turn, and 
this would be a second socio-religious implication of the Merician insti- 
tution, they would be able, through their widespread action of witness 
and of service, to permeate urban society with a new leaven. 


If the oratory of “Divino Amore ”, 6 numerically small in size, could 
reach a certain section of society through its own secret structures, the 
great longing for a life lived openly in the light of the “one and pure di- 
vine love” was the leaven paving the way for the reform of the Church 
among wider levels of society. Inserted into this perspective, the virgins 
of the Company of St Ursula, following in their Foundress’ footsteps 
and present at every social level, would be able to spread the evangelical 
message by their word and by their life. 

b) The life of prayer 

Cozzano’s insistence on the twofold expression contemplation- 
action, which sums up for him the way of life set out for the virgins of 
the Company of St Ursula, and also the first testimonies collected to- 
gether by the biographers, lead us to examine the role of contemplation 
in Angela’s daily life. 

Among them all, it is Agostino Gallo perhaps who gives us the 
most balanced and restrained account of Angela’s daily habits, without 
falling into the temptation of apologia; he had seen her at close range for 
several months, and at Brescia he lived opposite the church of San Cle- 
mente, where his guest no doubt often used to go. 

A more perceptive observer than Antonio Romano, and more expe- 
rienced in analysing what he observed, Gallo succeeded in discerning in 
Angela’s spiritual life the secret of her convictions and of her courageous 
asceticism: “And it is not to be wondered at that she led such a harsh life 
and praised virginity, chastity and fasts so warmly ... since she used to 
communicate every day that she could, remaining before the Blessed Sac- 
rament several hours in the mornings to hear the masses ”. 7 Beyond the 
customary gesture and the outward signs of devotion, Gallo had instinc- 
tively perceived in Angela’s sacramental life the determining factor 
which gave coherence and persuasive efficacy to her action. 

This woman “belonged more to heaven than to earth”, as he said at 
the “Processo”; and as “she used to sleep very little, she probably spent 
the greater part of the night in prayer, contemplating and considering 
those divine things which are granted to very few people to see ”. 8 This 
was only a conjecture on Gallo’s part, but it was also his way of express- 
ing what he had noticed about his guest - a continuous attraction of her 
spirit towards meeting God. 

Cf. infra, the Appendix Note to Chapter V. 
Processo Narari, D16. 




Some more concrete indications about Angela’s life of prayer are 
provided for us by the norms that she herself laid down for the members 
of the Company, and by the accompanying reasons given for them: both 
the norms and the reasons betray a consummate experience, the fruit of a 
prolonged habit. 

Addressing herself to the district superiors of the Company, the 
“colonelle”, Angela recommends that they conform first of all to the dis- 
ciplinary rules, especially those concerned with the sacramental life and 
other “similar good actions. For it is right and fitting that the mothers 
be an example and a mirror for their daughters ...”. 9 

Mother and mistress of her followers, in no way could Angela not 
have taken the path before them, and she certainly must have accompa- 
nied them in their practice of that intense life of prayer which she had rec- 
ommended to them. But in recommending it, she had not forgotten to 
add a short didactic note, one of those notes of wisdom she scatters 
among her teachings, to prevent her followers from making any kind of 
confusion beween the means and the end: “by prayer, we implore from 
God the true grace of the spiritual life; ... we must pray unceasingly ... be- 
cause of the continual need we have of God’s help ”. 10 Prayer which is life 
and breath involves the whole being, and so all the senses: “we also ad- 
vise frequent vocal prayer, for it is through the bodily senses that we dis- 
pose ourselves for mental prayer”; here again Angela reveals psychologi- 
cal finesse. At the same time, she manifests that she is also a daughter of 
her age, so close still to the “devotio moderna”, the devotion in which 
affectivity played such an important role in one’s personal relationship 
with God, and vocal prayer was indispensable as a channel for the out- 
pouring of religious feelings. 

Angela certainly used to recite the Office of Our Lady as is proved 
by the existence of her small breviary — a description of it will be given 
in the documentary Appendix 11 -, and by the fact that she prescribes 
the recitation of it in Chapter VI of the Rule. She adds to this the seven 
penitential psalms, also to be said daily by the members of the Company; 
these psalms normally formed an appendix to the breviary and their 
recitation was a very popular devotion. Angela herself must have 
practised it. 

It is known that Angela hesitated a long time before setting up the 
Company — more will be said about this later. We can conclude, 

9 Counsels , 6th Counsel, D4. 

10 R Hie, Chapter VI, D2. 

11 DIO. 


therefore, that she had sought in prayer the light and strength to fulfil 
her vocation when we read in the Prologue to the Counsels her exhorta- 
tion to the “colonelle”: “How earnestly, then, you must beg God to en- 
lighten you and direct you and teach you what you have to do for love 
of him in this task 

The analogous recommendation addressed to the lady-governors of 
the Company gives a hint as to how much prayer had been demanded of 
Angela in the drawing up of the Rule; a prayer, in this case, in which grad- 
ually the norms “prayed” before God were to take form and expression 
in that spare, precise and essential language, so very characteristic of the 
Rule. Strengthened by this experience, she will urge the “matrons” of the 
government: “And if, according to times and needs, new rules should be 
made, or any change introduced, do it prudently and with good advice. 
And always may your first recourse be to gather together at the feet of 
Jesus Christ 

Angela did not prescribe saying the rosary, but she must have said 
it herself. The Atti dei Processi, in fact, have handed down to us the de- 
scription of her beads. 14 We do not know in what way or how often she 
used to turn to this prayer, since no-one has ever made any reference to 
it. For her it might have been one of those “vocal prayers” which she be- 
lieved had the merit and function of leading one into contemplation. She 
had prescribed the recitation each day “at least” of the Office of Our 
Lady and of the seven penitential psalms; it can be assumed that this was 
the daily minimum. It was no small task, taking into account the diffi- 
culty of reading in Latin for those who even knew how to read, at a time 
when illiteracy was the norm. And it was no small thing, if we remember 
that those who were illiterate, instead of saying the Office, had to say a 
total of 75 Our Fathers and the same number of Hail Marys, spaced out 
during the day in line with the canonical Hours. 15 

The chapters of the Merician Rule concerned with the evangelical 
counsels and prayer, 16 the visions of her youth and other biographical 
episodes, all lead to the conclusion that Angela had gone through some 
mystical experiences. Evidence about one such experience has been left 
by the Bertolino Boscoli who used to live not far from St Afra and 
whom we met in the preceding chapter. 

Angela, who was already living in one of the houses belonging to 

12 Counsels [Prologue], D4. 

15 Testament , Last Legacy, D5. 

14 DIO. 

15 Rule , Chapter VI, D2. 

' 6 . Ibid., respectively Chapters IX, X, XI, VI. 


the Canons of the Lateran, had gone to mass in San Barnaba, a church 
nearby. It was a weekday, but even so, the congregation was quite large; 
the mass was celebrated at the altar of San Nicola da Tolentino. During 
the reading of the Gospel (relates Bertolino), “not only I, but many of 
those who were present at that mass saw her also, I saw the said Madre 
Suor Angela standing and raised almost a hand’s breadth from the 
ground, and she remained like this for some little time, to the great 
amazement of everyone present ”. 17 Bertolino was only sixteen at the 
time, and yet certain details had remained so vivid to him that they give 
his account a note of authenticity. He does not say that everyone saw it, 
but only many of those present; he does not say that he saw Angela “in 
the air”, but only lifted about a hand’s breadth from the ground. He 
adds, however, that news of this had spread throughout the city, and 
that many had thus come to hear about the sanctity of the “Madre”. 

Even before Bertolino, Francesco Landini had written in his short 
portrait of the Foundress: “She was seen, during the time of prayer, with 
her body lifted in the air ”. 18 Bellintani would write later that the “good 
woman” who used to live with her had seen her “absorbed in God in 
prayer and detached from her senses, with her body notably lifted from 
the ground “.’ 9 But Doneda did not include this last account. 

Angela’s life of prayer must have been nourished by reading, and 
according to the testimony of Agostino Gallo, it appears that she read a 
lot: “she used to read a number of spiritual books”; and again: “she was 
not short of spiritual books to read, when there were no people around 
to take up her time in some good work”. Both Gallo and Chizzola stress 
the fact that she understood Latin and knew how to interpret the Holy 
Scriptures . 20 One finds further proof of this in her Writings, especially in 
the Rule, where biblical quotations appear spontaneously and form part 
of the context in question in order to give the backing of “God’s word” 
to the Madre’s teachings and admonitions. Whether it was a charisma or 
whether it was the fruit of an extraordinary perceptive insight and an 
amazing instinct for the language, we cannot say. It was perhaps a ques- 
tion of a gift, “gratis dato” in view of the mission that was to be under- 
taken, one more gift to be added to the others granted to her. 

Put on her guard by what she had heard tell of the trap of illusion 
into which some pseudo-mystics had fallen, Angela would always look 

17 Processo Na^ari, D16. 

18 Landini, Eslratto, op. cit., D15. 

19 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, F.[9v]; “orando esser assorta in Dio, et alienata da 
sensi co’l corpo istesso da terra notabilmente alzato”. 

20 Processo Nas^ari, D16. 


on extraordinary deeds with prudence and caution. She herself would 
confide to Gallo how Satan had appeared to her in her youth in the guise of 
an angel of light, and he would draw the following conclusion from it: 
“And this story in truth was the one that convinced me that she was a 
great servant of God, much more than did all the holy works that I saw 
in her, because there was always in her a deep humility 

c) The life of penance 

The contemplation of Christ’s life has always kindled in the saints 
the desire to conform themselves to him and to share in his redemptive 
mission by penance voluntarily embraced. Two eye-witnesses in particu- 
lar have handed down to us the most reliable information about the 
austerities practised by Angela, while certain documents of the Processes 
reveal some other aspects of them. 22 

The young Romano was able to see unfolding before his admiring 
eyes, for nearly fourteen years, day after day, constantly, a life which to 
him touched on the supernatural. Agostino Gallo, on the other hand, 
would have witnessed this for only a few months. Their accounts differ 
in style, just as their social backgrounds differed, and very likely also 
their cultural formation, but with regard to the contents they are in 
agreement: Angela did not sleep in a bed, but on some matting; she had 
replaced the pillow with a piece of wood; she used to drink only water; 
she ate no meat, but only bread, fruit and vegetables. 

It is not clear what the two witnesses - and Giacomo Chizzola can 
be added to them - meant by the expression “fruit and vegetables”; 
whether, for example, “vegetables” to them meant only edible herbs, or 
whether they had in mind garden produce in general, and including, 
therefore, also vegetables. 

Nothing is said, either, of those polentas made from poor cereals, 
which in the 16th century - before the introduction of the potato and 
maize in Italy — formed the staple diet of people living in the country 
and those of humble means. Rye, spelt, millet and sorghum, which had a 
wider cultivation than wheat - all these, ground into flour and cooked, 
were a substitute for the wheaten bread, which was eaten by the wealthy 
and by the city folk who could afford it. 

Romano and Gallo record that Angela drank only water. It is true 
that there is abundant water in the region, but there are also some excel- 

21 Ibid. Cf. supra, Pt.ll, Ch.II, l.e. 

22 DIO, Dll. 


lent wines; to abstain from these, allowing herself only a finger of wine 
at Christmas and at Easter, as was her custom, was certainly an act of 

We have already pointed out the fasts and the abstinences that the 
Rule of the Franciscan Third Order imposed on its members. 23 However, 
certain relaxations were allowed, especially on grounds of health or 
for travel. Between Easter and the feast of St Francis, those who were 
faced with very heavy work, such as at times of haymaking, harvesting, 
ploughing and sowing, were even allowed three meals a day. Angela 
does not appear to have availed herself of any of these dispensations. 
Based as they were, though, on sound common sense, on prudence and 
understanding, they provided her with a lesson in human understanding 
which she, in her turn, would put into practice: in her Rule, in the chap- 
ter on fasting, 24 she mitigates the severity of the fasts for the weakest, 
even if, as a general norm, the fasts that she lays down are stricter than 
those of the Franciscan Rule, since she adds on the forty days after 
Epiphany. This “lenten” fast of Epiphany came about “in honour of the 
fast that was kept by Christ in the desert at that time, according to the 
early tradition of the Church. There is a reference to such a fast at the 
second Council of Tours, held in 567, when in prescribing to the monks 
the observance of the fasts they had kept from the earliest times, it 
requires that post Epiphaniam usque ad Quadragesimam ter in septimana jeju- 
nenf'P An explanation of these additional forty days lies in that christo- 
centrism which is one of the mainsprings of Merician spirituality. 

Angela also adds the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays of every 
week after the Easter octave; then the Ember days, the three Rogation 
days, the whole novena of Pentecost, and once more three days a week 
from Pentecost until Advent. One must bear in mind, however, as we 
have already noted, that fasting did not entail abstaining from meat ex- 
cept on the days of abstinence; one substantial midday meal was allowed 
as well as a light meal in the evening. Drinking also was allowed during 
the day; water of course, but also wine or other drinks. 26 

If the fast-days that Angela lists in the Rule are so numerous, we 
must take for granted that she imposed at least as much upon herself, 
and this would confirm the statement of her witnesses that she used to 

23 Cf. supra Pt.II, Ch.II, l.d. 

24 Rule, Chapter V, D2. 

23 GAETANO Moroni, Diponario di erudipwne Storico-Ecclesiastica..., article “digiuno”, vol.XX, in 
Venezia, dalla tipografia Emiliana, 1843, p.55. 

26 Ibid., pp.46-59 passim. 


fast all the time. Having practised fasting faithfully from the time of her 
youth, she must have become trained to bear it without any injury to 
herself in her mature years. This in no way, however, made her fail to 
recognise the burden it was or to underestimate its possible consequenc- 
es. In certain circumstances, such a way of life could have proved itself 
to be imprudent or foolhardy. Hence the wise counsel she gives to her 
daughters: no-one should take upon herself the right to decide how she 
will carry out this act of penance; nor will it be enough just to consult 
the spiritual director, as he might be unaware of some special circum- 
stances or certain health problems which might warrant an attenuation. 
This is why each one must seek explicit approval from the lady- 
governors of the Company, considered as being the only persons compe- 
tent to decide the matter . 27 

Always consistent with her own criteria of spiritual pedagogy, once 
again Angela tries to avoid any confusion between the means and 
the end; in itself fasting has no value, but the value lies in the reasons 
behind it. 

In proposing to her daughters intentions for their fasting , 28 Angela 
reveals what were at least some of the reasons which used to help her to 
face it herself. For the forty days after the Epiphany, she suggests “im- 
ploring before the Throne of the Most High and. begging for mercy for 
the great amount of evil committed by Christians at this time” (thus, ask- 
ing pardon for all the sins during carnival-time); for the three days be- 
fore the Ascension, “to implore God’s help for the Christian people”; for 
the Pentecost novena, to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit “promised by 
Christ to his chosen ones, who are deeply sorry for their sins”. These 
three intentions, in an ascending scale, express Angela’s zeal for the sal- 
vation and the sanctification of men. 

On the subject of Angela’s penances, Agostino Gallo would not hes- 
itate to talk about the “violent hunger” she endured, and he would also 
draw attention to the “scorching heat” and “extreme cold”. Anyone fa- 
miliar with the Brescian climate knows how oppressive the heat can be 
in summer; to find any relief, one really has to search for it. And anyone 
who has experienced Brescian winters knows how harsh they are, and 
how the water can freeze inside the houses at night. But tradition has it 
that Angela refused even the elementary means of heating which poor 
people used in their houses at that time, such as braziers or bricks heated 
under the ashes of the fireplace. 

27 Rule, Chapter V, D2. 

28 Ibid. 


Bellintani, followed by Gondi , 29 would relate that Angela, when she 
had to change her chemise, used to wet it first in cold water before put- 
ting it on. These same two authors were the first to assert that some- 
times her sole food was the Eucharist. We have already expressed our 
disagreement with them concerning the spectacular forms of penance 
which they attributed to Angela. 

There is one thing, however, which we know for certain: Angela 
wore a hair-shirt and she used to scourge herself with a discipline. This 
is attested by the documents which we are publishing in this book 30 and 
which we have taken from the Atti del Processo. 

d) The “good offices” 

We do not really know how Angela interpreted the second half of 
the expression “contemplation-action”, in other words how she carried 
out in practice those good works which behove all Christians, and which 
could well come under the phrase used by Gallo: “... and then spending 
the entire day in good offices to her neighbours”. We do not know 
exactly how she occupied her days outside the time devoted to prayer. 
The information supplied by Gallo only deals with the period when An- 
gela was living under his eyes. 

Romano says absolutely nothing on this subject. It seems as if, from 
the fourteen years that Angela had lived under his roof, he had remem- 
bered only the episodes which had caught his imagination because of 
their extraordinariness, forgetting the daily events of a simple life, with 
no fixed engagements. 

There is one particular episode, for example, that he is the only one 
to hand down to us, the peaceful solution of a challenge to a duel. In 
spite of the shadowy areas surrounding its date and the identity of the 
persons for whom Angela offered her good services, the various biog- 
raphers in their turn have included this account in their pages. 

The two contenders were, according to Romano, Filippo Sala and 
Francesco Martinengo; the Duke d’Urbino had tried to reconcile them, 
but in vain. 

Although we made a thorough search, we did not succeed in find- 
ing anywhere any reference to this affair which, considering the eminent 
people involved, would not have escaped the chronicles of the time or 

2 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms. B. VI. 30, f.[5r-v]; Bellintani, Monumenta, op. cit., p.82, § 89; 
Gondi, Vita, op. cit p.20. 

50 DIO, Dll. 


the Decrees of the city General Council, which used to deal with matters 
of this kind. 

In making known some other people with the same names as the 
two contenders, we are not claiming to identify them; we simply want to 
shed some possible light on the affair. 

- Filippo di Sali, from the district of San Faustino. In 1517 he is thirty- 
two years old; his wife, Modesta, is twenty-four, and their little boy, Er- 
cole, is four. He has two men-servants, a steward, a maid-servant and 
two horses. He is in debt to a Martinengo; 31 

- Filippino Sala, murderer of his own sister. It appears that he had also 
killed Carlo Valgulio, archpriest of Iseo, on 7 January 15 17. 32 “Vir pes- 
simus, omicida, latro, sacrilegus et omni genere malorum patronus et 
magister” is how Branchino da Paratico, quoted by Pasero, 33 describes 

He died in prison in 1532, after being sentenced for abuse and as- 
sault against public authorities. 34 If Angela had tried to dissuade such a 
man from fighting a duel, and had been successful, the event would have 
caused quite a stir. 

The list is longer for the Francesco Martinengos: 

- “Zohan Francesco di Ieronimo, nodaro”. In 1517, he is thirty-four 
years old; Maddalena, his wife, is twenty-four. They have two small 
boys, and a “sister of marriageable age” who is twelve; 35 

- “Francesco ditto della Motella”. In 1534 he is thirty-seven; his wife, 
Barbara, is twenty-seven. They have five children; 36 

- “Zoan Francesco”, referred to in the Chronicles of Marin Sanudo as 
“giudice del maleficio”, in other words, an examining magistrate in the 
penal law-court. On 17 February 1525, in the exercise of his duties, he 
had written a letter giving the information that some soldiers had been 
killed, stripped, and their bodies concealed beneath the ground. The 
tone is that of the magistrate who is trying to carry out his duty with im- 
partiality; 37 

- “Francesco bechar in Bressa”. In 1534 (PE, n.84) he is fifty-four years 

” PE, n.119 and n.237. 

i2 Bartolomeo Palazzo, Diario cit. in GuerrINI, he Cronache Bresciane inedile , t.I, p.301. 

”, II domino veneto, op. cit ., p.309, n.l. 
w Annali di Brescia dall’anno 1030 al 1530, BQ, ms. C. 1.3, col. 135. 

” PE, n.84 and n.213. 

56 Ibid. 

*' Marino Sanuto [Marin Sanudo, in Venice], 1 diari di Marino Sanulo... a cura di Federico Ste- 
fani, Guglielmo Berchet, Nicolo Barozzi... Venezia 1893, t.XXXVII, col. 621-622. 


old and his wife, Ioanna, is forty-two. They live in the San Faustino dis- 
trict; they have one married son, Vincenzo, and three other young boys. 
Vincenzo, in his turn, has two sons. Three servants are kept in the 
house. On the list of those owing him money there is a Sala. Could he be 
perhaps the first of the two Salas we have mentioned? And this last- 
mentioned Martinengo, his enemy? It could well be. 

Anyhow, as the intervention of the Duke d’Urbino, Francesco Ma- 
ria della Rovere, and of the Rectors and nobles of the city had met with 
no success, the respective wives of the two men had turned to Angela to 
settle the dispute between the parties. She had spoken to each of the men 
directly - and this must have required some courage on her part — but fi- 
nally she had achieved her object. Faino wrote that the affair had been 
brought to an end, “much to the amazement of all the City”. 38 

It is difficult to date this episode. Lombardi places it in 1528, 39 be- 
cause some historiographers mention that in that year the Duke d’Ur- 
bino, a captain in the pay of Venice, was in Brescia. Actually, the Diario 
of Bartolomeo Palazzo records that already since 1524 the Duke had 
stayed a number of times at Brescia, 40 but at that particular time Angela 
was making her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

At the beginning of March 1525, the Duke was again in Brescia. 
Even though this was indeed the year of the pilgrimage to Rome, An- 
gela might not yet have started out on the journey as the good weather 
was late coming that year. Easter, in fact, fell on 16 April. So in March, 
Angela could still have been in Brescia. The Duke had returned there 
again in April and May, and likewise in the following years. 

Romano recalled another incident which he had witnessed directly 
when he was accompanying Angela to Mantua, on her pilgrimage to the 
tomb of Blessed Osanna. She had made a detour to carry out a work of 
charity: to offer her mediation with the aim of obtaining pardon for 
someone she knew. This man, guilty of some serious offence, had been 
severely punished. Angela was going to ask his master to reinstate him 
to the position from which he had been banished. 

The aggrieved master, this time, was Luigi Alessandro Gonzaga di 
Castiglione, son of Rodolfo and grandson of Luigi III; an arrogant man, 
quick to perpetrate any kind of misdeed, very severe as an administrator 
of justice. Accompanied by his wife, Caterina d’Anguisola, celebrated for 
her virtue and beauty, he was at Solferino at that particular time. He had 

38 Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.40. 

39 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.154, note (c). 

40 Bartolomeo Palazzo, Diario, op. cit., passim. 


agreed to see Angela there, and she had pleaded the cause of the accused 
man; Luigi had allowed himself to be persuaded and had pardoned him. 
Afterwards, his son Ferdinando (the father of the future St Aloysius) 
would name one of his daughters Angela . 41 Perhaps it was in memory of 
the saintly woman who had visited his parents and who had succeeded in 
overcoming his father’s hardness of heart. 

Opinions differ about the relationship which existed between An- 
gela and the man she was protecting. Romano says that the man in- 
volved was “un famigliare, amico della madre suor Angela”, in other 
words a man in Gonzaga’s service, who knew Angela very well. Nazari 
in his Vita has a different view: “un parente della reverenda Madre”. Is 
this the result of a further inquiry and a rectification by Romano or did 
the notary himself misinterpret what Romano had said at the “Pro- 

A legitimate doubt persists, certainly, over the word “famigliare” 
used by Romano. In what rank among Gonzaga’s “familiari” could one 
find a man who owned possessions that could be confiscated? He could 
not have belonged to the class of ordinary servants, that is certain; it is 
more likely that he was a courtier, perhaps a vassal, who had property 
more or less substantial. 

Gondi calls him “un bandito”, and Faino “a bandit, whose goods 
were confiscated on account of his wrongdoing”. Both of them use the 
participle of the verb “bandire” (to banish) as a noun (bandit ). 42 Lom- 
bardi, who believes that the man is a relative of Angela, seems to give 
the word “bandito” a pejorative meaning and makes him guilty of “cer- 
tain crimes”. He lays emphasis on the respectful and kind welcome that 
Angela had enjoyed, “to the point of obtaining on behalf of a relative of 
hers the lifting of the banishment, and the restitution of all the goods 
which had been confiscated from him by public decree because of certain 
crimes”. On this assumed kinship with the “bandito”, endowed with 
considerable property, Lombardi also bases his view that Angela’s eco- 
nomic situation would not have been “as humble as some people have 
made it out to be ”. 43 

Doneda himself had not discovered anything more precise by way 
of information, since he simply mentions the fact that the Signore di Ca- 

41 LlTTA, Vamiglie celebri ct Italia, Paolo Emilio Giusti stampatore, Milano 1819, III, pp.522-527. 

42 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., II, p.49; Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.28: “un bandito, a cui erano stati confiscati 
li beni per suoi demeriti”. 

45 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.58: “fino ad ottenere a favore di un suo congiunto la liberazione dal 
bando, e la restituzione di tutti i beni che per certi delitti erangli stati con pubblico decreto recati al 
fisco”; and n.(c): “poi tanto vile, quanto da alcuni viene descritta”. 


stiglione “had banished one of her relatives and confiscated his goods ”. 44 
Future research into the archives of the Gonzaga family at Castiglione 
may lead perhaps to the identification of the man and to the discovery of 
his wrongdoing. 

At any rate, once again Angela had not hesitated to take upon her- 
self an unpleasant mission so that she could help a man in need. And 
once again, she had won the victory. 

What Angela’s other “good offices” and other “good works” could 
have been besides her peace and reconciliation missions seems clear 
enough when we look at Agostino Gallo’s testimony at the “Processo 
Nazari ”, 45 which he probably gave with specific episodes and certain 
people in mind. According to Gallo, people turned to Angela to restore 
harmony between wife and husband, between children and parents, be- 
tween brothers, between different kith and kin; he says that her advice 
was sought in drawing up a will, in establishing new family ties, in fac- 
ing up to the difficulties of life. Also that Angela used to welcome peo- 
ple, to listen, to suggest; and perhaps she would even settle some dispute 
and resolve some delicate question. It is not just by chance that Landini 
will look on Angela as “another Deborah ”, 46 the prophetess-judge of 
Israel to whom the people had recourse in matters of justice. 

None of her biographers, none of the contemporary witnesses, di- 
rect or indirect, no written source and no oral tradition, as far as we 
know, has put Angela in close contact with the charitable works organ- 
ised in Brescia, as were the hospitals and other “luoghi pii” for example. 

It is not known, therefore, from which source Cistellini got his in- 
formation when he states that: “Undernourished and neglected children, 
poor adolescent girls sullied by the privations and by the moral miseries 
of their hovels and attics, all these will come under Angela Merici’s lov- 
ing care ...”. 47 

We were not able to find any documents proving that Angela had 
carried out any direct social activity, or that she had “dedicated her life, 
before and above all else, to the care of the poorest and the most aban- 
doned ”. 48 

44 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.41-42: “aveva bandito un parente di lei e confiscatigli i beni”. 

45 D16. 

* D15; cf. Judges, 4:4-5. 

47 CISTELLINI Figure, op. cit., p.27: “I bimbi mal nutriti e dimenticati, le povere adolescenti avvizzite 
dagli stenti e dalle miserie morali nei tuguri e nelle soffitte, avranno le premure di Angela Merici...”. 

48 As is stated by T. Ledochowska, Angela, op. cit., 1, p.78, although in another passage she has 
acknowledged: “None of the old texts mentions Angela’s name as a worker, either in the hospitals, 
charitable works or centres for catechesis” (Ibid, p.71 et seq.), and this silence is not without reason, 
as we will try to show later. Cf. infra, Ch.V, Appendix Note. 


In no way can we imagine her shut up in her own little world, di- 
vorced from the reality of life around her; in the way she accepted and 
listened to the poor folk who turned to her, inevitably she must have 
come to know some pitiful cases where a remedy was needed, or some 
needs which she was able to meet, either directly, or with the help of her 
friends or of other possible benefactors. 

And all this she was moved to do “out of love of God and out of 
zeal for souls”, in the words she herself used in her Second Counsel. 

Passing through Venice and Rome, Angela was invited to remain 
on in those cities for the good of their “luoghi pii”. Again it is Romano 
who affirms this . 49 

One may ask oneself what was the reason behind such an invitation. 
It must not be forgotten that this was a time when the cities and their 
lords used to vie with each other for saints, partly for reasons of faith 
and popular devotion, but much more for reasons of prestige. Some peo- 
ple have managed to discover other determining factors behind this invi- 
tation, such as Angela’s own “competence” in the field of charitable 
work and of organisation, and such as “the gifts she exercised in running 
the Centre of Good Works at Brescia ”. 50 But we found nothing to sup- 
port this hypothesis, either in the documentation we consulted, or in the 
local tradition. 

What does stand out very clearly in the general picture of Angela’s 
good works is her readiness to give welcome and spiritual advice, an 
availability which in no way cut her off from those acts of charity 
compatible with her state of life, but without favouring any one of them 
in particular. 

e) The service of the word 

Biographers and tradition have always spoken of Angela Merici as 
being a messenger of peace and truth through her spoken word. And 
that she indeed did have a fervent and efficacious word, the eye- 
witnesses affirm it, the hagiographers with good reason repeat it, and her 
daughters have claimed it, as it were, as their inheritance, to be assimi- 
lated, used arid handed on. 

Cozzano, in the Dichiarasfone della Holla f is the first to underline, 
with full knowledge of the facts, the fecundity of Angela’s spoken word. 

49 Process o Na^ari, D16. 

50 LedOchowska, Angela, op. cit., I, p.73. For this subject, refer to Ch.V, 3. 

51 D24, [ff.974r-v; 975 r]. 


Recalling the origins of the Company of St Ursula, he relates that Ange- 
la, in the midst of the first virgins, “was like a sun that gave light to all 
the others. She was like a fire, a conflagration of love, that set them 
alight. She was like a throne for God, which instructed them ...”. “And 
even the most sinful received the greatest kindness from her; if she could 
not succeed in converting such a person, at least she tried by her gentle 
love to persuade him to do a little good, or a little less evil.... Her words 
were ardent, powerful and gentle, and spoken with so much grace that 
everyone was compelled to say: ‘God is here’ ”. 52 

A word, therefore, inspiring good works, spoken with the convic- 
tion of faith; such a word must have betrayed Angela’s heartfelt passion 
for souls: “O, a fiery desire cried out in our Mother, such as proceeds 
purely from the Holy Spirit, O, this burning desire cried out, I say: 
please God that the whole world may come under the shadow of this 
rule. Pure was this desire, stripped of all human feelings. And so it could 
only have had its origin in truth ”. 53 It was a word of truth, harmonising 
completely with the feeling behind it. 

Romano recalls at the “Processo Nazari” that no sooner had the re- 
nown of Angela’s sanctity begun to spread, than the people had recourse 
to her, entreating her prayers. 

Gallo is more precise. First of all he pays homage to Angela’s per- 
sonal charm. With the kindness of her words, not only does she win 
over the entire Gallo family, but also the courtiers of Duke Francesco 
Sforza II and the Milanese nobility who had taken refuge at Cremona. A 
good psychologist - as is shown in the Counsels and Legacies — Angela 
must have been gifted with an instinctive tact which put the interlocutor 
at ease. The love of God, which gave purpose to her life, made her direct 
all her actions towards God’s glory through the good she did to those 
who approached her. 

People of all kinds flocked to her during the months she spent in 
Agostino Gallo’s house, and the same thing must have happened when 
she was living at Romano’s. Folk came bringing their various cases to 
her, and derived comfort and counsel from her judgment and her under- 

Such a one was Ippolita Gallo, who used to visit Angela even when 
her husband was alive, and when she became a widow she found support 
in this simple, serene friendship. Earlier, Caterina Patengola had expe- 
rienced the same kind of thing, when she had found a solace to her own 
loneliness in Angela’s presence. 

52 ibid. 

53 Epistola, D22, [f.963v]. 


But the most famous act of comfort is linked to the name of Fran- 
cesco Sforza II. Again it is Romano who recalls it. 

Past bitterness and defeats weighed heavily on the son of Ludovico 
il Moro and Beatrice d’Este. 54 Born in 1495, at the age of eight he had 
seen his father’s court broken up and his father taken prisoner. After that 
he had suffered a long exile, then his brother’s despotism under the hu- 
miliating protection of the Swiss, and again another exile. Finally, on 4 
April, 1522, he had entered Milan “to the cheers of all the people, with 
the ringing of bells, the firing of guns; it was as if it was the end of the 
world”. 55 But after this the Spanish and the French had been in dispute 
over his city; it had been taken, lost, decimated by the plague of 1524, 
and captured again. When the Spanish troops entered there in July 1525, 
Milan was exchanged for Como. Como, however, had repulsed Duke 
Sforza, refusing to open its gates to him. And so had begun a sorrowful 
pilgrimage for the unfortunate man. Taking refuge in Crema in August 
and September 1525, he had been given the city of Cremona by the Ve- 
netians and their allies, and had established his court there. 

Nazari, in his Vita,™ says that Francesco Sforza had come to Brescia 
in 1528, and this view is shared by Odorici 57 and by the contemporary 
Brescian, Bartolomeo Palazzo, 58 who gives the 26 June as the exact date. 
The Duke had been given hospitality by the Hermits of St Augustine 
who at that time lived in the convent of San Barnaba, and he had stayed 
a month with them. During his stay there he had asked to see the woman 
whose renown for sanctity had reached him. 

Angela, who had the rare gift of reaching out to human grief, had 
accepted the invitation with that humble and intelligent simplicity which 
enabled her to adapt herself to all those who spoke to her. Knowing 
how “the resplendent face” of God satisfies every afflicted heart, 59 she 
must have drawn words of hope and comfort from this assurance. And 

,4 For a chronicle which conserves the flavour of the period: Gl ANMARCO BUR1GOZZO MERZARO, 
Cronica Milanese dal 1500 a! 1544 con note , Milano, presso la Libreria Ferrario, Contrada S. Margherita, 
N.1106, 1851, and Antonio Grumello pavese, Cronaca su testo a penna esistente nella Biblioteca 
del signor Principe Emilio Barbiano di Belgioioso. Pubblicata per la prima volta dal prof. Giuseppe 
Muller, Milano, Francesco Colombo Librajo editore, Contrada S. Martino, N.549A, 1856. Pietro 
Verri, Storia di Milano , t.II. ... nella Stamperia di Giuseppe Marelli, Milano, 1798. Alessandro Vis- 
conti, Storm di Milano , Ceschina 1937. 

55 Grumello, Cronaca, op. cit., p.291: “con allegria di tutto il popolo, con suonar de campane, sparar 
de artellaria, parendo ruinasse el mondo”. 

,6 D17. 

57 FEDERICO Odorici, Storie Bresciane dai primi tempi sino all eta nostra , narrate da Federico Odorici, 
vol.IX, 1400-1550, Brescia, Pietro di Lor. Gilberti, 1860, p.184. 

58 Bartolomeo Palazzo, Diario, op. cit., p.335. 

59 Cf. DI, Ch.V. 


the Duke had begged her “to accept him as a son, together with all his 
subjects”. Some time afterwards, on her way home from a pilgrimage to 
Varallo, she had paid him a return visit. 

Later, Francesco would marry by proxy Christiana of Denmark, but 
when the young bride made her entry into Milan through the Porta Tici- 
nese, she did not find the Duke there to welcome her. He was waiting 
for her at the Castle, bent double, leaning on a stick. This was 3 May 
1534. The following year, during the night of 2 November, he would 
die. The two conversations with Angela may have given this man under 
sentence of a premature death two short, but peace-filled respites. 

Angela’s historiographers have always laid special stress on the 
“inner, perceptive scriptural knowledge” that the Holy Spirit bestowed 
on her, and which found expression in her words of enlightenment when 
she was talking to preachers and even to theologians. Gallo liked to re- 
call this fact, saying that he had “quite often seen religious, and espe- 
cially preachers and theologians, coming to ask her the meaning of many 
passages in the Psalms, the Prophets, the Apocalypse, in fact anything 
from the Old and New Testament, and they were astounded to hear such 
expositions issuing from her mouth”. 60 Angela, who had never been to 
school, who “had never learnt Latin letters”, as Chizzola did not fail to 
point out, 61 had such a good grasp of Latin that people were astonished 
and amazed. She used to give “very beautiful sermons, very learned and 
spiritual”, which sometimes lasted even an hour. 

She used to welcome people, listen, give an answer; it was a kind of 
one-to-one catechesis, adapted to meet the needs of each individual, and 
at the same time, it was spiritual direction and a human meeting. 

After the foundation of the Order of St Ursula for the education 
of young girls, the figure of St Angela was often shown in pictures 
surrounded by children listening to her. With perhaps a few exceptions, 
this image has never had any historical foundation. It was young people 
and adults who used to visit her at home. Therefore, she can be consid- 
ered, and rightly so, the spiritual animator of those chosen souls who 
gathered round her, but she was also this for the simple folk who used to 
turn to her seeking her aid. To these lay-people of good-will, searching 
for light or in need of reassurance, open to the demands of the spirit, and 
engaged sometimes in responsible tasks, as well as to the humble folk, 
unlettered and illiterate, Angela “used to preach faith in God the Most 

60 Processo Na^ari, D16. 

61 Ibid. 


And for her the Most High God was truly the “only life and hope”, 
the “All”, the “only treasure”, but he was also “his divine Majesty”, the 
“Spouse” in whose destiny as redeemer and in whose interests as sover- 
eign of the world she wanted to share. Hence her burning desire to lead 
sinners back to him or to guide new friends to him. 

This desire found expression in her persuasive and encouraging 
words. Gallo, recalling the stay at Cremona, would say later: “People 
could see that she persuaded many to change their way of living; I my- 
self have known many of them who are now dead, and a few others who 
are still alive, in Milan as well as in Cremona”. 62 

Angela’s conversations, which went straight to the heart of the mat- 
ter, would spark off the conversion and the vocation of a young man 
from Salo, Stefano Bertazzoli. According to Bellintani, 63 she had met him 
during the course of one of the visits she used to pay there from time to 
time. And she, who knew how to give an “apostolic” dimension to all 
her actions (understood here in the sense of a direct evangelisation), had 
obtained from him such a change of direction that he would bear the 
marks of it for the rest of his life. 

Cistellini 64 places the meeting between 1516-1520. But at that epoch 
Stefano was only in his late teens, judging by the 1565 “polizza 
d’estimo” in which “Stefano Bertazzuoli de Rossi, a priest at Salo”, de- 
clares that he is sixty-four years old. 65 It is much more likely that the 
meeting took place some years later, when the young man was a law- 
student at Padua. He had called on Angela, more out of curiosity and 
vanity than anything else. With a certain colourful detail, Mattia Bellintani 
has handed down to us a souvenir of this; no doubt it was still being 
spoken about in his day: “He was studying law at Padua. He had come 
back to Salo while Angela was staying there and, like many others, went 
to visit her. Seeing his scarlet cap with a large plume through it, as was 
the custom of the day, she chided him about it. Her lively and warm- 
hearted exhortations so pierced his heart, that on his return to Padua he 
began studying canon law and became a priest. From that time onwards 
he never ceased practising Christian and spiritual works, with the great- 
est fruit; and he persevered in these until he was nearly ninety, when he 
passed to the blessed life, as one can hope, filled with saintly virtue”. 66 

62 Ibid. 

a Bellintani, Vila, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[16v] 

64 ClSTELLINI, Figure, op. cit., “II gruppo spirituale di Salo”, p.104. 

65 PE, n.17. 

66 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms. B. VI. 30, f.[16v]: “Studiava egli in legge a Padoa, et venendo a 
Salo mentre vi era suor Angela, andolla a visitare, come facevano molti: et vedutolo essa con la be- 



The conversion, therefore, had been total and lasting. Bertazzoli 
had then come under the influence of the Theatines; he himself had be- 
come a member of some pious association, working very closely with the 
charitable organisations of Salo. A man of enthusiasm, but restless and 
irresolute, motivated by high ideals but held back by big doubts, he used 
to associate with Cajetan of Thiene and Jerome Emiliani, and had corre- 
sponded with the priest Scotti and other well-known Theatines, but he 
had never joined their Institute. 

Bellintani tells us about another episode which goes back to Ange- 
la’s sporadic visits to Salo: “It caused quite a stir. A priest at Salo, who 
was living with his mistress, used to visit this very fervent servant of 
Christ every day. And each time she addressed him with pious and pas- 
sionate arguments, and always in tears he resolved to end the affair. But 
once he had left Angela, he could no longer bring himself to break the 
infernal chain which kept him fettered to sin; and so the unhappy man, 
scorning so great a grace, finally died in his sin, with the mistress still in 
his house ”. 67 

This failure of Angela, told very simply, bears witness to Bellin- 
tani’s honesty and to his desire to tell the truth. 

Gondi and Faino 68 also make reference to a written “word”, saying 
that Angela used to reply with great prudence to the letters she received, 
but they do not advance any evidence to support such a statement. It is 
certainly a very surprising assertion, because no-one else has ever men- 
tioned this fact, and no-one has ever spoken about Angela as being in 
correspondence with anyone. 

During the process of canonisation it was laid down, by a decree 
from the Holy See, that any writing, letter or document which referred 
to Angela Merici had to be presented to the ecclesiastical tribunal. 
Among all the various material collected together, no letter written by 
her or addressed to her was found, with the exception of the letter of the 
Sacred Penitentiary concerning her burial . 69 

retta di scarlatto, et con una gran piuma dentro, che all’hora si usava, lo riprese di cio, et con le sue 
vive et calde essortationi si fattamente lo punse al cuore, ch’egli, ritornato a Padoa, si pose a studiare 
in Canonico, et si fece prete: essercitandosi poi sempre solo in opere christiane, et spiritual^ con 
frutto grandissimo; nel che e perseverato insin’all’eta presso di novant’anni, nella quale e passato, 
colmo di sante virtu, alia beata vita, come sperar si puote”. 

67 Ibid: “Fu bene un gran’caso che, trovandosi in Salo un sacerdote concubinario, ogni giorni an- 
dava a visitare questa ferventissima serva di Christo; et facendogli essa ogni volta divoti et caldi ra- 
gionamenti, egli sempre in lagrime tutto si risolveva. Ma, da lei partito, non si sapeva poi risolvere a 
spezzarc l’infernal catena, la quale nel peccato legato lo teneva; talche il misero, ingrato a tanta gra- 
tia, finalmente mori nell’iniquita sua con la concubina in casa”. 

68 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p.27; Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.26. 

69 D9. 



A few days after Angela’s death, Pandolfo Nassino entered in the 
pages of his R egistro a testimony from which we would like to quote a 
couple of lines which have an epigraphical incisiveness and force: “This 
Madre Suor Angela used to preach faith in God the Most High to 
everyone, so that she drew them all to herself ’. 70 

With his usual confidence as an eye-witness, Nassino tells us that 
the funeral took place with as much solemnity and with as many people 
as if it had been for a lord. “I saw this myself, Pandolfo”. Those words 
“she used to preach faith to everyone” summed up perhaps the com- 
ments which Nassino had heard in the streets and made his own. 

“Mistress of the word” — “ore magistra” - would also be the words 
used by a certain Don Valeriano, Canon of the Lateran, to describe An- 
gela in his epitaph dictated for her. He even concluded a second one 
with the words: “sic facite ut docui; mortua adhuc doceo ”. 71 

It is largely by following Romano that we have tried to show what 
were some of the “good works” carried out by Angela, the ones which 
have now become part of her history. It is clear that Romano was relying 
mainly on his memory for them, without presenting them in any fixed 
order. But when these scattered episodes are set against the background 
of her daily life as depicted by Gallo in his testimony at the “Processo 
Nazari”, one sees emerging a picture of Angela’s activity as a whole, a 
multiform activity carried out in the service of love. 

70 NASSINO, R egistro, op. at . , f.302r: “Questa Madre sur Anzola a tutti predicava la fede del sumo 
Dio, che tutti se innamorava di lei”. 

71 Nazari, Vita , D17. 


Chapter V 


So here is Angela finally settled in Brescia, having now reached ma- 
ture age. It is during this period that her main pilgrimages to the Holy 
Land and to Rome took place, as well as the shorter ones to Mantua and 
to Varallo. 

The pilgrimages, like fasts, are practices deeply rooted in the oldest 
religious tradition; in ancient times, there were even pilgrims at the 
temple of Aesculapius and the tomb of Abraham. Pilgrimages can be 
said to symbolize the precarious existence of man wandering on earth, 
ever mindful that here he has no abiding dwelling-place, and throwing 
himself into a constant search for his “ubi consistam”. The pilgrimage is 
like an interpretation of the human parabola arching its way towards the 
divine — the sacred place, the heavenly Jerusalem - where, through puri- 
fication, man is reborn to a new life, and given a new strength to take up 
again, with a renewed spirit, the rhythm of daily life which is the lot of 

Two dimensions, the devotional and the penitential, characterised 
these journeys which, notwithstanding the exhausting conditions under 
which they were carried out, did not fail to exercise a real attraction. The 
pilgrimage, in a group more or less large, used to strengthen the com- 
munity bond, a very strong factor in religious sentiment. And then on 
the return from the pilgrimage, the ordeals endured were transfigured as 
they were recalled, and this evocation brought back the emotions con- 
nected with them. The prospect of the indulgences which could be 
gained, and which carried so much weight in the religious climate of the 
time, spurred on the hardy to set out on the journey. The goals of the 
major pilgrimages were Jerusalem and Rome, St James of Compostella, 
St Martin of Tours and Cologne. Any others were generally considered 
to be minor pilgrimages. 

Usually enveloped in a simple cloak and with a large-brimmed hat 
tied under the chin, haversack slung on the shoulder, staff in the hand 
and with the indispensable water-bottle, the pilgrim used to ask the 
priest to bless his belt before leaving, and then he would commit himself 

to the slow means of transport, risking the insecurity of the roads and 
the inclemency of the elements. He used to find hospitality in the reli- 
gious houses, in the house of some good Christian or in the inns that he 
came across on the journey. 

In expiation for their sins, big sinners sometimes had a pilgrimage 
imposed on them as a penance. They used to travel armed with peniten- 
tial letters which they had to present to the ecclesiastical authorities of 
the places indicated. These letters not only served as a safe conduct, but 
they also made it possible for a check to be made, on the return, to see 
if all the required obligations had been carried out. 

As for the reasons behind Angela’s pilgrimages, one can assume 
that she was drawn to them out of devotion to the Passion and the 
Blood of Christ, and also out of veneration for the Saints and Martyrs of 
the Church, taking upon herself all the consequences arising out of the 
journey and adapting herself to the circumstances just like any other sim- 
ple pilgrim. 

We will deal first with Angela’s two main pilgrimages, to Jerusalem 
and to Rome, and then we will follow her on her journeys to Mantua 
and to Varallo. 

There is a striking similarity between some events that happened on 
the first of these journeys and certain events of a voyage undertaken at 
the same time, under very similar conditions, an account of which we 
discovered in a chronicle of the period, thereby removing any doubt that 
may have existed up to now about the credibility of the first account. In 
addition, we are now able to provide some completely new information, 
which is very useful in helping us to understand certain aspects of Ange- 
la’s stay in Venice. 

This chapter is followed by an appendix about a possible link An- 
gela may have had with the movement of the “Divino Amore” and with 
the “luoghi pii”. 

1. Towards the Holy Places 

The journey appears to have taken place in 1524. Romano himself, 1 
Angela’s first companion in her travels and adventures, and then later a 
witness at the “Processo Nazari”, does not seem to be very certain about 

1 Wc will be referring in this chapter to the testimonies of the Processo Nazari, D16, without repeat- 
ing this reference each time. 


the date. It also seems that the initiative came from him. He had a great 
desire to go to the Holy Land - prompted by a spirit of adventure or 
by a deep religious spirit? A little of both probably. He had spoken 
about the idea to Angela, who had immediately expressed a desire to ac- 
company him. 

From Romano’s account of this journey, we know quite a lot about 
the various things that happened on the way, and some of the details 
mentioned by him are to be found in other accounts of the period, at 
least by analogy. But as Romano was not writing as a historian, a strictly 
accurate reconstruction of the pilgrimage remains, and probably will 
remain, impossible. 

The voyage used to start off from Venice, because every year the 
Serenissima fitted out a “pilgrim ship” to go to the Holy Land, and this 
was done with the consent of the Grand Turk. For Catholics in the 
West, this ship represented the freedom to go the Holy Sepulchre, by 
then under the power of the Crescent. 

It was a concession which the Egyptian Sultan had granted the Re- 
public of Venice in 1510. Following its subjugation of the whole region 
in 1517, the Ottoman Empire had sanctioned this legal situation, which 
involved some acquired, and by now traditional, advantages. 2 The 
Turks, however, infested the seas and constituted a permanent danger. 

We searched for some additional information about these journeys 
in the Diari of Marin Sanudo the Younger, a Venetian noble who, with 
the conscientiousness of a diplomat and the attention to detail of a chron- 
icler, used to write down daily comments about events in the city and 
what was happening in the Venetian Republic, on land and on sea. His 
fifty in-folio volumes collect together items of news of varied impor- 
tance and have brought to light letters and documents of an official na- 
ture, from the last years of the 15th century to 1535. These entries, some- 
times given in minute detail, provide an inexhaustible and extremely use- 
ful source of information when it comes to a reconstruction of back- 
ground, customs and events. 

We have gone through some of these volumes to see if there were 
any clues which might help us to fix the date of the pilgrimage more ac- 
curately, since Romano seemed to be a little uncertain as to the exact 

So we started from 1522. That year, according to Sanudo V ac- 

2 Cf. F. Rey, / .a protection diplomatique et consuiaire dam let echelles du Levant , Larose, 1899, quoted in 
PAUL Dudon, Saint-Ignace de Loyola , 3e edition, G. Beauchesne et Fils, Paris 1934, p. 107. 

5 Sanuto, 1 Diari, op. cit., t.XXXIII, c.298. 


count, was marked by one particular circumstance: right up to the last 
moment there was uncertainty as to whether or not the “pilgrim ship” 
would be fitted out, for fear of the Turks. It was the year when Suleiman 
the Magnificent, who had already crossed the Balkans and conquered 
Belgrade, took possession of Rhodes and drove out the Knights who 
had been there since the beginning of the 14th century. Travelling by sea 
presented grave risks and dangers, besides those of the pirates. 

It was already 14 June and the delay in starting the preparations 
continued. Sanudo notes that “nostri di colegio andavano lentamente a 
compir di armar le galee”. On the 18th, the eve of Corpus Christi, in 
other words, of the day set aside for the solemn procession which ac- 
companied the pilgrims as they made their way to the ship, no reassuring 
news had yet arrived from the sea, and so the fitting out of the ship was 
discontinued. Given the small number of those going, it was finally de- 
cided that it was not worth the effort to organise the voyage to Jaffa. So 
the pilgrims had had to find for themselves a private means of transport: 
“Da mar niuna nuova era, unde si stava suspesi e non si continuava lo ar- 
mar. Ma per esser poco numero di pelegrini per andar in Hierusalem, 
zercha 40 in tutto e venuti e non piu, questo anno non si mete nave al 
viazo dil Zaffo, perche la spexa nol porta; unde ditti pelegrini hanno no- 
lizzato uno maran di sier Matio de Prioli... col qual voleno andar; ma an- 
derano mal sicuri”. 4 

Thus, on 19 June, the customary Corpus Christi procession had 
taken place, with about forty pilgrims participating. 

Now Romano, in his turn, explains that he had learnt, shortly be- 
fore the usual time of departure, that the annual pilgrimage would not be 
taking place. Although he does not give any reasons for it, one is in- 
clined to believe that it was a precautionary measure against the dangers 
from the Turks and so, given the coincidence of the delay referred to in 
the two accounts, we could perhaps accept 1522 as the probable date. 

But if we consider the fact that Romano clearly affirms having 
travelled on the Venetian ships bound for the Middle East by the usual 
sea-route, and not on a single private boat, then we must exclude the 
year 1522. 

As for the 1523 pilgrimage, it would go down in history for a spe- 
cial reason: among the small party of travellers there was Ignatius of 
Loyola, and his biographers have given a faithful account of the vicissi- 
tudes of the journey, together with the names of his travelling compan- 
ions. Once again there was no pilgrim ship that particular year; in view 

4 Ibid., c.310. 



of the poor demand, a halt had been called to getting it ready. Those 
who were still hoping to leave were too few to afford to hire another: 
“Fo pochissimi pelegrini, ne pono andar al peregrinare per esser pochi, 
ne poleno nolezar nave”. 5 

There was, though, a vessel all ready to go to Cyprus with the gov- 
ernor of that island, and the pilgrims had been invited to take advantage 
of this. Corpus Christi fell on 4 June, but the ship could not hoist its sails 
until 15 July because of the sea conditions. Ignatius had been granted 
free berth. A little later, however, a galley had been equipped to take 
thirteen passengers. On arriving at Crete it had taken on board the 
group of pilgrims, and the voyage had continued with them all together. 
The eye-witnesses who give this account make no mention at all of An- 
gela’s being present. Thus, 1523 cannot be considered as a likely date. 

1525 must also be excluded, it seems, as this was the year of the Ju- 
bilee, and it was probably at that time that Angela went to Rome, to- 
gether with the other pilgrims who were converging there to gain the 

For a different reason, we think that 1526 also must be excluded. 
Antonio Romano states that Angela went to Rome after the pilgrimage 
to the Holy Land. If this had taken place in 1526, the pilgrimage to 
Rome would have been in 1527, the same year as the tragic Sack of 
Rome, and her biographers would certainly have mentioned it. 

Putting together all these reasons, we are thus inclined to accept 
1524, the date put forward by Romano. 

That year, spring had had more than its fair share of bad weather. 
On Ascension Day the Doge had not been able to go out in the state 
barge for the ceremony of his marriage with the sea because of the gale- 
force wind, and he had put it off to the following Sunday: “A di 5 
[May], fo il giorno della Sensa. Fo gran vento, adeo il Doxe delibero di 
non andar in bucintoro a sposar il mar, ma venir in chiexia a messa e dar 
il pasto e la comedia, e poi domenega andara, si’l sara bon tempo...”. 6 
And the author continues: “A di 8 domenega, la matina el Principe fo in 
bucintoro a sposar il mar, che il di di la Sensa non si pote andar per il 
gran vento e pioza...”. 7 

The rains had likewise hampered the army from marching: on 6 
May “lo esercito non si havia potuto mover perche per le pioze state, le 
acque eran molto cressute, adeo non poteano passar...”. 8 

5 Ibid., t.XXXIV, c.239. 

6 Ibid., t.XXXVl, c.305. 

7 Ibid., c.313. 

8 Ibid., c.333. 


And so, in that year 1524, Romano had suggested going on the 
pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But word had then reached him that the 
Venetian pilgrim ship would not be leaving, and so he had decided to set 
out for Lanciano, where he had some business to arrange. This flourish- 
ing trading centre, about thirty kilometres to the south of Pescara, used 
to attract an extraordinary throng of people 9 to its annual May fair. Mer- 
chants and buyers used to come there not only from Italy, but also from 
France and the Balkans. An Adriatic port, Lanciano was easy to reach by 
sea from Venice, and this was precisely the route Romano had chosen. 

His journey to Venice could have taken place between April and 
May, because he arrived there in time to learn that the pilgrimage to the 
Holy Land would be taking place after all. In fact, no sooner had he ar- 
rived in Venice, than Antonio had seen hoisted the white standards with 
the red cross of the ships which were preparing to sail to the Middle 
East. He had ensured that the news reached Angela, and she had set out. 
She had begged ser Bartolomeo, son of her uncle Biancoso de Bianchi, 
to accompany her, and together they had covered the miles separating 
them from Venice. The usual route taken was overland as far as Padua, 
then by sea to the lagoon. We do not know what means of transport the 
two cousins used. 

Bellintani, at this point, introduces into Merician literature a story 
which had already become part of tradition: Angela, “in the region of 
Vicenza, near Montebello, arrived in front of a very swollen torrent, 
where there was a wooden footbridge, and it was precisely in that dan- 
gerous spot that she experienced angelic assistance. At considerable dan- 
ger, her cousin had crossed over the water on horseback, but while the 
man who was responsible for the horses and had Angela riding pillion, 
was wondering what to do, the horse of its own accord, or rather under 
angelic guidance, moved towards the little footbridge and crossed over 
it, swift and sure-footed, much better than any courageous man could 
have done, and reached the other side, to the considerable amazement 
of everyone”. 10 

Pictures have sometimes depicted Angela on horseback while she is 
crossing over a stream by a narrow footbridge. A prudent scepticism 

9 Moroni, Di^ionario, op. cit., vol.XXXVII, article “Lanciano”, p.92. 

10 BELLINTANI, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[12r]: “giunta su’l Vicentino presso a Montebello, 
ad un’acqua molto grossa, ove per li pedoni era un travetto, in questo passo pericoloso provo l’an- 
gelica assistenza. Passo il parente l’acqua co’l cavallo con grave rischio, ma mentre il vetturino, che 
lei menava in groppa, sta pensando che cosa si deggia fare, mossesi da se il cavallo, anzi dall’angelo 
condotto verso il pedale et sopra di quello sicuro et ispedito, meglio che si haverebbe un huomo 
ardito, passo da l’altra parte con non picciola loro meraviglia...”. 


could lead us to look on this event as being part legend and part exagger- 
ation, but when we read Sanudo’s information about the torrential rains 
of the preceding days, this scepticism could well disappear and give way 
to admiration. 

The decision to go to the Holy Land already pointed to Angela’s 
courageous temperament, to a spirit of daring unusual for those days, 
and Bellintani’s account confirms this. 

Angela had arrived in Venice in time to join in the solemn proces- 
sion which accompanied the pilgrims to the port; this was usually held 
on the feast of Corpus Christi, which in that particular year fell on 26 
May. Romano betrays a certain excitement when he relates: “Immedi- 
ately I let the Madre Suor Angela know, and straightaway she came to 
Venice accompanied by a Bartolomeo Biancoso from Salo, her first 
cousin. And so, on the day of Corpus Christi which followed ... we all 
embarked ...”. 

This passage is usually interpreted as if Angela had arrived in Ven- 
ice on the eve itself of the feast. Romano, however, does not say “the 
following day”, but “the day of Corpus Christi which followed”, and so 
it is impossible to advance any theory as to the exact date of the arrival 
of Angela and Bartolomeo." 

We did not find out any information about the cost of the passage 
or by what practical means the payment was made, or anything about the 
necessary food-supplies that had to be obtained before the departure. We 
only know that, the previous year, the owner of the pilgrim ship had 
asked each passenger for 50 scudi (or 26 ducats), as is recorded by Ig- 
natius’ biographers. We do not know who the ship-owner was in 1524, 
or how much he charged. In this group of pilgrims, in fact, there was 
no-one who kept a diary of the voyage, as in the previous year when 
Pietro Fiissli, a bell-maker from Zurich, and Philippe Hagen from Stras- 
burg, had taken note of the provisions made by the passengers and of 
their itinerary in the Holy Land. 

The feast of Corpus Christi had been carried out with its traditional 
ritual; in a phantasmagoria of colours and lights, and to the singing of 
sacred hymns, the pilgrims had taken their place in the procession, ac- 
companied by the members of the Council, in the wake of the Doge and 
the ambassadors. 

Antonio Romano mentions the name of “il magnifico Signor Alovi- 
gio Justiniano” as one of the escorts, but he must have confused the 

11 Faino is mistaken when, in the Vita, op. cit., p.28, he says that Angela left Brescia on 1st June 
and Salo on the 3rd. 


names and the people. There was no Alvise Giustinian, in fact, among 
those who acted as escorts in the 1524 procession, but there was a “sier 
Alvise Pisani” and a “sier Andrea Justinian”. 12 Romano may have picked 
up some names here and there and joined them together, or he may have 
already heard about someone with that name - “Alvise Justinian, pro- 
vedador a le biave q. sier Marin”. This Alvise had held a very high posi- 
tion among the nobility and in the life of the city, but on 10 June 1521 
his son Anzolo, “formerly a master of galleys going to the Barbary 
coast”, had been sentenced following a court-case, and Alvise had been 
implicated in it with his son. 13 He had died shortly after. On 7 March 
1522, in fact, two galleys were hired out on contract for the usual jour- 
ney to the Barbary coast, and it so happened that one of these belonged 
to “Anzolo Justinian quondam Alvise”, creditor of the King of Tunis. 14 
Alvise Giustinian had died, therefore, some time between June 1521 and 
March 1522. 

And so on that 26 May 1524, there were fewer than fifty pilgrims. 
Sanudo seems to imply that they were not very numerous: “Eravi... di 
soto di pellegrini numero cinquanta, che piu non ne sono in questa terra, 
venuti fino hora”. 15 

It is not known where they had spent the days preceding the voy- 
age; there was a well-known Venetian tradition, though, of treating pil- 
grims as sacred guests, and the Government and the Council used to 
consider it an honour to facilitate their transactions with the owners of 
the ships that were sailing. Romano, however, does not seem to have re- 
membered anything in particular about those days. Nor does he say any- 
thing about if or how long the galley had had to wait in port until the 
weather conditions were favourable for weighing anchor. 

There is only one halt on the outward voyage which Romano sin- 
gles out, namely the one made at the port of the Canea on the north-west 
coast of the island of Crete. Here Angela had lost “almost all her sight”. 
In his Vita, Nazari states: “perhaps because of the sea fog, or perhaps 
because of the tiredness resulting from the journey, she lost nearly all her 
sight. Nevertheless, although she was as it were blind, she was guided to 
all the holy places”. 16 Bellintani says: “she remained almost entirely bereft 
of sight”. 17 With Nazari and Bellintani, we support Romano who, as an 

12 Sanuto, / Diari, op. cit., t.XXXVI, c.369. 

13 Ibid., t.XXX, c.103. 

14 Ibid., t.XXXIII, c.21. 

15 Ibid., t.XXXVI, c.369. 

16 D17. 

17 Bellintani, Vita, in Monumenta, op. cit., p.84. 


eye-witness of the whole pilgrimage, seems to imply that it was an eye- 
infection rather than a total blindness, as suggested by Gallo, Landini 
and others. 

b) At Jerusalem 

According to a well-established tradition, the pilgrimage to the 
Holy Places usually took place under the guidance of the Franciscans of 
the Custody of the Holy Land. Only Gallo says something about this 
particular pilgrimage: Angela “lost her sight going there. Nevertheless 
she told me that as she was being led from one to another of those holy 
places of devotion, she always saw them with the eyes of her soul, just 
as if she had actually seen them. And afterwards, having recovered her 
sight in Brescia, she went to Rome ...”. Nazari, in his Vita, perhaps 
after he had received some later information from Romano, adds that 
when she arrived at Mount Calvary, the Madre had wept for a long time 
stretched out on the ground, and had repeatedly kissed the ground . 18 

The meditation on Christ’s mysteries must have left a deep impres- 
sion on Angela. The two pilgrimages to Varallo , 19 the frescoes in the 
oratory of Isabetta Prato , 20 and the numerous references to the Passion in 
her Writings, all testify to it. 

We can find another testimony to it in the words of Ivan de Cala- 
horra: “At Jerusalem, at the same time [the year is not indicated], 
another servant of God brought great honour to the monastery of the 
Tertiary Nuns of Mount Sion; this was Sister Angela from Desenzano 
[in the original Spanish it is given as ‘Sor Angela de Disenzano’] who, 
afire with the love of God, with great faith and devotion made a pilgrim- 
age to the Holy Places, where with copious tears she adored and medi- 
tated on the most sublime mysteries which had been performed there by 
the Redeemer of the world ”. 21 

We do not know from which source Ivan de Calahorra took this; in 
any case, he does not mention Angela’s blindness. 

The monastery he mentions, not far from that of the Friars of 
Mount Sion, was intended to “receive women who are continually com- 

18 D17. 

19 Cf. infra, 5. of this chapter. 

20 Cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.VI, 2. 

21 P.F. IVAN DE Calahorra, Historia cronologica della Provincia di Syria e Terra Santa di Cierusalemme... 
Opera composta in Spagnolo dal M.R.P.F. Giovanni di Calaorra Min. Osserv. della Provincia di 
Burgos [stampata a Madrid nel 1684]. Tradotta nella Lingua Italiana dal M.R.P. Angelico di Milano 
Min. Riformato, essendo attuale Guardiano, e Custode della medesima Provincia di Terra Santa, In 
Venetia, 1694. Cf. Libro V, cap.27, pp.473-474. 


ing to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. These Beguines [the nuns of Mount 
Sion] are highly honoured and esteemed by the Saracens ... And for this 
reason they are safe in the mountains of Judea, and throughout the 
City ...”. 22 

We know nothing else about the visit to Jerusalem, since Romano 
has left no testimony about the places visited or about the spiritual as- 
pect of the pilgrimage. However, he appears a little more eloquent in the 
account of the return journey from Jerusalem. The first stop was at 
Rama, today er-Ram, a place in Palestine on the route from Jerusalem to 
Bethel. This stop lasted eight days “on account of certain assassins 
[armed Moslems] who were waiting to take us prisoners”. 

This was not the first time that such a thing had happened. The 
previous year, too, the party in which Ignatius of Loyola was travelling 
had been forced to stop at Rama, where the city governor, in collusion 
with the brigands, had demanded one ducat and a garment from each 
pilgrim in return for letting them leave. They had refused to give in to 
this exorbitant and unreasonable demand, but they had had to pay for 
their refusal by being shut up in an infested place for three days, without 
food and drink, and many of them had fallen ill. 23 

c) The return 

With Romano as our guide, let us go once more through the event- 
ful return journey. 

Leaving Jaffa, the pilgrim ship had set sail for Cyprus, where they 
stayed for several days taking on cargo. From there the next port of call 
had been Candia. Here, according to Bellintani (Romano does not say 
anything about it), Angela had recovered her sight in front of a miracu- 
lous crucifix. 24 Landini also speaks of a recovery during the return jour- 
ney. 25 Lombardi, on this subject, discusses the version which, according 
to Gallo’s statement, would have Angela healed at Brescia, but then he 
resolves the difficulty, like Doneda, by giving his support to the healing 
which took place during the return journey. 26 

From Candia the pilgrim ship had left on the evening of 4 October, 

22 Francesco Suriano, Opera nuova chiamata ltinerario de Hierusa/em, compilato per P. Francesco 
Suriano da Venetia dell’Ord. del Serafico Francesco de l’Observantia de la Provincia di Santo Fran- 
cesco l’anno 1485, stampato in Venetia per Francesco Bindoni 1’anno 1524, p.64. quoted in Lom- 
bardi, l ila , op. cit . , p.65, n.(c). 

23 Dudon, Saint Ignace, op. cit., p.116. 

24 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[13r]. 

23 Estratto, D15. 

26 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.68-69. 


the feast of St Francis, in the company of two other ships. According to 
Romano’s account, the passengers had been joined by the “Vice-Duke 
of Candia”, who also was going to Venice. 27 

Having left the island, the three ships, according to the same narra- 
tor, had found themselves at the mercy of a raging storm which had last- 
ed nine days; two ships had sunk and the ship with 'the pilgrims had 
only managed to escape by throwing overboard the cargo and the muni- 
tions. After this it had been blown towards the north African coast of 

In that same year, 1524, and during the same days, some other Ve- 
netian ships had undergone similar adventures. It is Sanudo who tells the 
story: on 3 November, the Duke of Candia, returning on a ship belong- 
ing to the Dolfins, 28 had disembarked at Venice; he was at the end of his 
term of office, and had been replaced by Nicolo Zorzi. The ship had set 
sail from Candia on 12 October and had miraculously escaped three 
storms. Sanudo continues: “Marco Minio, who had been Duke of Candia 
and who arrived yesterday with the Dolfin ship, came ‘in Collegio’; he 
had been replaced by Nicolo Zorzi. Marco Minio was dressed in black 
plush velvet. He was accompanied by Signor Alvise Filetto, Lord High 
Chancellor of Candia, who had been authorised by the Grand Council to 
spend ... [sic] months in this land. There was also Francesco Minio, his 
brother and captain of the above-mentioned Dolfin ship, a vessel of 700 
‘botte’, 25 which had been to Jerusalem with forty-three Flemish pil- 
grims on board. The boat had left Candia on 12 October, and had had to 
face three very heavy storms”. 30 

Let us look at these three violent storms mentioned by Sanudo. Ac- 
cording to the account of the noblemen from Candia, they had been first 
of all led astray for two days near the island of Cerigo (ancient Cithera, 
today Kithara); then two storms had broken out; as a result, the ship, 
listing badly, had strayed for six days off the coast of Sicily, and then in 
Tunisian waters. Twenty-nine pilgrims had thrown into the sea the bar- 

27 In fact, the offices in Candia were those of: duke, governor, rector and directors, and captain- 

" The Dolfins were Venetian ship-owners, trading with Tunis. 

29 “Botte” is the Italian nautical term used here to indicate the ship’s carrying capacity. 
w Sanuto, 1 Diari, op. cit., t.XXXVII, c.137: “Vene in Collegio sier Marco Minio, venuto ducha di 
Candia con la nave Dolfina, zonto eri; in loco dil qual andoe sier Nicolo Zorzi. Questo era vestito di 
veludo negro con barba. Era con lui domino Alvise Filetto, canzelier grando di Candia, qual a auto 
licentia in Gran Consejo di venir in questa terra per mexi... Era etiam sier Francesco Minio, suo fra- 
tello, qual e stato con la ditta nave Dolfina di botte 700, con pelegrini 43 fiamengi, in Hierusalem, et 
era capitanio di la nave. La qual nave parti di Candia a di 12 Octubrio, et nel venir a hauto 3 gran- 
dissime fortune”. 


rels of that delicious aromatic wine called malmsey and whose Italian 
nickname of “grechetto” recalls more clearly its place of origin. 

With these barrels, they also had had to throw overboard some 
other merchandise, and finally they had arrived opposite Durazzo. There 
they had received on board the visit of a Turkish captain who had drawn 
close to them with a flotilla of seven fast warships, called “fuste”, which 
had oars and were smaller than galleys. It is true that the Turkish captain 
had offered them a gift of two carafes and a large goblet, but it is also 
true that the passengers of the Christian ship had recommended their 
souls to God and had made vows to him in return for their safety. 31 

Between this adventure and the one experienced by Romano, there 
are sufficient similarities to reinforce the suspicion that it was the same 
event which the good “varotaro de Ghedi” evokes in his own epic style, 
plus some additional details. They had arrived at Durazzo where the 
Turkish fleet was lying, and the following morning they had been joined 
by a galley and two fuste, which had been received by the traditional sa- 
lute. The “patron” or captain of the Christian ship had been conducted 
to his Turkish counterpart and subjected to an interrogation. Then the 
Turkish captain had climbed on board the pilgrim ship to greet the 
Duke, whom he knew already from the time when the latter had been 
ambassador at the court of Suleiman II. The Turkish boats had then 
withdrawn some distance from the port to lie in ambush for the pilgrims 
and to take them prisoners. But the Lord, thanks to Angela’s prayers, 
had come to their aid and had led them to safety. 

A third storm, recorded by Sanudo, had broken out in the open sea 
beyond the island of Lesina. Romano does not remember it. He only re- 
calls their arrival at Cittanova di Schiavonia (Cittanova of Istria or No- 
vigrad), a happy arrival due to Angela’s intercession. 

Romano does not say anything either about the ethnic group to 
which most of the pilgrims belonged. Those on the 700-ton Dolfin ship, 
whom Sanudo mentions, were Flemish. Sanudo, on his part, does not 
mention the shipwreck of the two ships: these could have quite simply 
lost contact and continued the voyage by different routes, and the pil- 
grims, who had been driven by the storm into the Sicilian sea, had 
thought the ships had foundered. This kind of thing often happened at 
sea. Thus, two years earlier, on 16 November, news had reached Venice 

31 Ibid., t.XXXVII, c.137: “La prima [tempesta] fo a di 17, che do di e do notte duroe, di gran 
vento, mar et pioza; adeo [e la seconda] la nave se ingalono, et 6 zorni poi ando vagando sora Cici- 
lia; facendo 29 pelegrini butono malvasie e assa’ robe in aqua; a la fin si trovono sora Durazo, dove 
era uno capitano turco con una galeota et 7 fuste; li vene a la nave, li dono do poti et una taza, siche 
hanno fatto quelli di la nave voti grandissimi, perche credevano esser anegati tutti”. 


of the sinking of the ship belonging to Francesco and Bartolomeo da 
Mosto, which was returning from Candia with a cargo of malmsey. But 
the following day it was learnt that the ship had landed Istria. 32 

Romano makes no reference to any vows taken at the height of the 
danger; Sanudo, on the other hand, does not fail to relate that, during 
the voyage, the Lord Chancellor of Candia had made a vow to dress 
himself in “beretino”, that is in grey, for a period of ten years, if he 
should arrive safe and sound at his destination. 33 

d) The stay at Venice 

If the voyage described by Sanudo in the Diario for 1524 coincides 
with our pilgrims’ one, they would have disembarked at Venice on 3 
November. 34 

According to Romano’s narrative, the three of them had stayed 
some time in Venice, simply perhaps to recover from the fatigue and the 
discomforts of the voyage. 

Angela found lodging with the nuns of the Holy Sepulchre, who 
observed the Franciscan rule. This hospitality constituted a kind excep- 
tion to their rule; no doubt it had been granted to her in recognition of 
the habit of the Third Order which she was wearing and which, in a 
certain sense, made her one of them. 

We have here an apparently insignificant fact and yet a very impor- 
tant one for the repercussions it had on the rest of Angela’s stay in 
Venice and on the interpretations arising from it. We can follow its 
developments thanks to the historical information which we discovered 
about this very convent and which up to now had escaped the notice of 
Merician biographers. 

The convent of the Holy Sepulchre 35 had been founded with the 
legacy of a certain Elena, widow of Marco Vioni, with the purpose of 
welcoming poor women who were going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, 
Rome, Compostella or elsewhere, and had to pass through Venice. 

On 7 September 1499 the superior, a certain Beatrice Venier (or Ve- 
neria) had obtained permission from Pope Alexander VI for the commu- 
nity to adopt the Rule of the Third Order of St Francis, with perpet- 
ual enclosure, “ex eo praesertim quod post expugnatam a Turcis Con- 

32 Ibid., t.XXXIII, c.500. 

” Ibid., t.XXXVII, c.137. 

54 Ibid., t.XXXVII, c.137. 

” Flaminio Corner, Notice Storiche delle Chiese e Monasteri di Veneria e di Torcei/o, Padova G Man- 
fre, 1758; p.118 and pp. 212-211 . 



stantinopolim nulla ferme Venetias peregrinationis causa pauper foemina 
adventaret”. 36 

But the site of the house inherited from Elena Vioni was too re- 
stricted for the premises to be enlarged in such a way as to allow for the 
construction outside the enclosure of some new accommodation for the 
visitors who were passing through. It was, in fact, hemmed in by the 
dwellings of the nobility: “propter domorum nonnullorum nobilium 
propinquitatem”. As a result, there was a “magna confusio” because the 
religious and the visiting pilgrims were all mixed together. This is why 
the former had turned to the Pope, begging his kind intervention to re- 
solve this anomalous situation which made it difficult for them to ob- 
serve the regular rule and was an obstacle, rather than a help, to their 
eternal salvation. Corner writes: “efficacibus verbis ostendentes, quan- 
tum ex onere sibi nuper imposito nimis gravarentur, et a regularis vitae 
exercitio retraherentur, quapropter, cum ex potius animarum pericula, 
quam salus provenirent”. 37 

Flaminio Corner also reports the object of the supplication to Alex- 
ander VI: “Vicarius Generalis et Fratres de Observantia rogant Alexan- 
drum VI ut Moniales S. Sepulcri dilatare possint suum monasterium de- 
struendo domos assignatas in hospitium peregrinarum...”. 38 Thus the 
project was aimed at enlarging the area of accommodation for the clois- 
tered nuns and suppressing the hostel part. 

By a Brief dated 8 February 1500, the Pope had granted the com- 
munity their request, thus safeguarding the cloistered life which the 
Franciscan nuns had opted for. 

Now Romano, continuing his narrative, relates that ladies, gentle- 
men, religious and pious people, all had made their way to the convent 
of the Holy Sepulchre to see the tertiary recently returned from the 
Holy Land, since the pilgrims and passengers considered that they owed 
their safety to her prayers. Such a throng of people was unbefitting in a 
setting which had become strictly enclosed. This probably gave rise to a 
certain embarrassment on both sides, and hence the decision to find al- 
ternative accommodation for the Franciscan tertiary. 

As in most hospitals, the Hospital for Incurables had a part set aside 
for visitors. To give lodging to the pilgrims was a corporal work of 

J6 Ibid., p.277. 

77 Fi.AMINIO Corner, Ecclesiae Venetae Antiquis Monumentis nunc etiam primum editis illustratae ac in de- 
cades distributae, Authore Flaminio Cornelio Senatore Veneto. Decadis decimae tertiae pars posterior, 
Venetiis MDCCXXXXIX - Typis Jo. Baptistae Pasquali Superiorum permissu ac privilegio, t.XI, 

Ibid., pp.299-300. 


mercy, which met one of the big needs of the time, and especially in a 
port city situated at the crossroads of the main routes of maritime trade. 
And so Angela Merici was conducted to this hospital. Jerome Emiliani 
(or Miani), too, when he arrived in Brescia in 1532, would be given a 
similar kind of lodging, namely in the Hospital for Incurables. 59 

The Venetian Hospital, which owed its origin to the initiative of 
Cajetan of Thiene, was still in its early stages. It had been started during 
the Lent of 1522, 40 and by 1524 it consisted of a few houses close to- 
gether which had already been acquired and a number of wooden 
buildings. Jerome Emiliani, for his part, had founded a “luogo pio” 
for orphans in the St Basil district, which he maintained from his own 
resources. 41 

The conversations exchanged between Angela and her visitors in 
the convent parlour and in the rooms of the hospital must have very 
soon revealed the moral worth of this woman, her human qualities, the 
compelling force of her words. The story told by the returning pilgrims 
had endowed her with a certain aura of sanctity: she had become almost 
blind, and then she had been healed; she had prayed throughout the 
storm-tossed voyage, and then the ship had been saved from shipwreck 
and from the danger of the Turks; her faith in God had inspired confi- 
dence in the crew and the passengers. Why not keep her in Venice where 
her word and the radiant influence of her sanctity could do so much 
good among all those sheltered in the city’s charitable institutions? 

And so, they had “begged her to remain in Venice for the general 
good of the ‘luoghi pii’ of that Illustrious City”. It is Romano who gives 
this information, making the invitation look as if it was the outcome of 
the favourable opinion which the nobility had expressed about Angela’s 

There may also have been another minor contributory factor. It is 
known, for example, that poor pilgrims, passing through the hospices 
maintained at public expense, used to repay them by rendering some serv- 
ice. Angela had probably done this, with tact and solicitude, and this 
also could have played a role in the invitation. 

Moreover, the directors of the Hospital for Incurables already had 
it in mind to look for some helpers. This can be deduced, on good 
grounds, from the fact that an Apostolic Brief of 19 May 1525 by Clem- 

w Nassino, Regisiro, op. cit., t'.288. Jerome Emiliani, a Venetian noble (1481-1538), founded the 
Clerks Regular called the Somaschans. 

40 SANUTO, I Diari , op. cit ., t.XXXIlI, c.103. 

41 Emanuele Antonio Cicogna, Inscri^ioni nella Chiesa e nell’Ospitale degli Incurabili, in Dell’inscri- 
t^ioni vene^iane, vol.V, Venezia, Orlandelli 1853, p.368. 


ent VII gives permission to this Venetian hospital to become affiliated 
to the Roman one and - what is of greater interest to us - to find four 
religious, two men and two women, to carry out the works of charity 
and other appropriate activities. 42 

In the climate of enthusiasm stirred up by Jerome Emiliani and his 
first followers, the presence of a woman animated by the Spirit of God, 
free of family ties and gifted with intelligence, understanding and a per- 
suasive tongue, could render an invaluable service in this “luogo pio”. 
Angela declined the invitation and, fearing the intervention of the Pa- 
triarch, who at that time was Antonio Contarini, she arranged with her 
two travelling companions to return immediately to Brescia. Romano 
makes it sound like a flight. 

The journey from Venice to Brescia, given the time of the year, was 
probably made in a closed carriage. Making allowance for a few stops at 
some inn or convent, they finally reached Brescia on 25 November, a 
Friday. On that day, the Church was celebrating the feast of St Catherine 
of Alexandria, virgin and martyr, who was well known to Renaissance 
Christians through devotion, art and legend. And St Catherine would 
have a special place in the history of the Company of St Ursula, as is con- 
firmed also in the Secondo Libro Generate : “The good and saintly custom 
of celebrating the final acceptance of the virgins into the Company of 
St Ursula on the feast of St Catherine each year, was introduced as much 
in memory of the happy return of the Blessed Angela from Jerusalem 
to Brescia on this very day and because she gave birth, to this holy 
Company on that day (in the year 1535), as to encourage these virgins 
to imitate St Catherine who (so the stories go) was espoused to Christ 
Our Lord, and by his own hands”. 43 

And it was in terms of nuptial relationship that Angela would de- 
fine the “new life” which she proposed to the virgins of the Company of 
St Ursula, probably concealing beneath this apparently banal expression 
her own spiritual experience. 

42 Memorie Antiche estratte dal Catastico degli Incurabili , pp. 43-49, quoted in Cicogna, Inscri^ioni , 
op. cit., p.310. 

43 Secondo Libro Generate , f.100: “La buona et santa consuetudine di stabilir le virgin! nella Compa- 
gnia di santa Orsola, nella festa di santa Catherina ogn’anno, e sta introdotta si per memoria del fe- 
lice ritorno che fece la beata Angela da Gierusalemme in Brescia in questo istesso giorno, et perche 
diede principio (in tal giorno 1’anno 1535) a questa devota Compagnia, si ancora per excitar queste 
virgini all’imitatione di santa Catherina, quala (come dicono le historic) fu sposata con le proprie 
mani da Christo signor nostro”. 




There is no doubt at all that the pilgrimage to Rome took place, but 
with regard to the date, the itinerary and duration, there is uncertainty 
because no-one has left us any direct testimony about them. 

A tradition, of unknown origin, places it in the Jubilee Year, 1525. 
Antonio Romano says vaguely: “some time later”, in other words, some 
time after the return from Jerusalem. 

Faino is the first who, without any hesitation, says the reason for 
the journey is “the occasion of the Holy Year”, 44 and this phrase is 
literally repeated by Doneda. 45 The latter, however, explains his own 
preference for 1525 on the twofold grounds of the attraction of the 
indulgences attached to the pilgrimage and of the display of the relics 
which took place in the Holy City on such an occasion. 46 He supports 
this hypothesis by what he thinks is a further piece of evidence: “And 
seeing that the idea of making the same journey also occurred to two 
Priests, this confirms me in my opinion; furthermore, I do not think it 
would have been very opportune to have made this pilgrimage in any of 
the following three years, owing to the turmoils of war which were 
raging throughout Italy, and especially in the City of Rome and in the 
Papal States”. 47 

The second reason advanced by Doneda seems to us the more 
cogent one, namely, that the disorders and the wars of the period follow- 
ing 1525 would have made a long journey through the Peninsula almost 
impossible. The argument about the participation of the two priests in 
the journey does not seem to us to be very convincing. 

Both Faino 48 and Lombardi 49 think that some other pilgrims 
would have accompanied the three going to Rome, and this view is 
likely, since the general conditions and the danger of falling into the 
hands of brigands made it inadvisable for people to travel in too small 
a group. 

Even if Romano’s expression “some time later” does not give a pre- 
cise chronological indication, at least it gives a sequence of facts: first 
Jerusalem, then Rome. 

44 Faino, Vita, op. tit., p.33. 

45 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.47. 

46 Ibid., p.140, n.26. 

47 Ibid., p. 141: “E mi conferma nell’opinione il vedere che ancora a due Sacerdoti entro allora nell’ 
animo di fare lo stesso viaggio; oltre che non mi pare, che alcuno dei tre seguenti anni fosse molto 
opportuno al detto pellegrinaggio, attesi i tumulti di guerra per l’ltalia, e specialmente nella Citta di 
Roma e nello stato Ecclesiastico”. 

48 Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.33. 

49 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.73. 


This time, however, Antonio Romano did not accompany Angela, 
which is a pity, as it means we have no information at all about what 
happened on the long journey, about its penitential aspect or the misad- 
ventures which probably befell them. And these were frequent at that 
time: bandits used to infest the roads, robbing the pilgrims of all their 
possessions, sometimes even taking their lives; and in addition, the prob- 
lems in finding food and lodging used to give the travellers considerable 
trouble. It is not even known if the stages of the journey were covered 
on horseback by the men and in a carriage by the women, as was the cus- 
tom of wealthy pilgrims going to Rome, or on foot, as was the lot of the 
poor, dragging their baggage behind them. Nor is it known if the party 
was escorted by armed men, as was often the case. 

That particular year the influx of pilgrims to Rome was small com- 
pared with that of previous jubilees. Moroni points this out: “Only a 
small number of pilgrims came to this Jubilee on account of the plague 
which was afflicting the city of Rome, the wars in Italy, the rebellions in 
Germany, the revolts in Hungary, and especially on account of Luther’s 
furious heretical attack against indulgences ”. 50 

But what Romano does throw light on is the devotional aspect of 
Angela’s Roman pilgrimage. She had desired “to visit those very holy 
relics”, and on her return she had spoken about “many things concerning 
those very holy relics”. In a way it was like going against the stream in 
support of a practice vigorously challenged by Lutheranism. 

The cult of the relics of saints and martrys was flourishing at that 
time. During the Jubilee Year, in particular, large crowds were power- 
fully attracted to the exposition of the “Sacred Face”, that is, the veil 
of Veronica, every Friday and feast day in St Peter’s, and also to that of 
the heads of St Peter and St Paul every Saturday in the Lateran. Then 
there was the pilgrimage from church to church, from catacomb to 
catacomb, where relics in large numbers could be seen. For the pilgrim, 
therefore, life followed a rhythm based on the sacred; he felt as if he was 
totally immersed in the sacred. The pilgrimage was not just a ritual ex- 
pression, but an intense existential experience. 

The meeting with the world of the spirit was stimulated in particu- 
lar by the ascetical exercise involved in visiting the basilicas. At the be- 

511 Moroni, Di^ionario, op. tit., vol.II, article “Anno Santo”, p.117: “A questo Giubileo concorse 
poco numero di pellegrini a cagione della peste che afflisse la citta di Roma, delle guerre d’ltalia, 
delle ribellioni della Germania, de’ tumulti dell’Ungheria, e specialmente a motivo dell’eresia di Lu- 
tero furiosamente scagliatasi contro le indulgenze”; VlRGINIO PRINZIVALU, Gli Ami Santi, Roma, 
1924, pp.63-69; G. CASTELL1, Gli Ami Santi, Cappelli, Bologna 1949, pp.91-94; M. Capodicasa, I 
Papi degli Anni Santi, Pescara 1975, pp.87-92. 


ginning, in order to gain the Jubilee indulgences, one had to visit the ba- 
silicas of St Peter and St Paul, but very soon those of St John Lateran 
and St Mary Major had been added on. Except in cases of absolute 
necessity, such as the overcrowding which impeded movement, or the 
recrudescence of some plague epidemic, the visits to the four basilicas 
had to be made for thirty days, consecutive or otherwise, if the pil- 
grims were Romans, for fifteen days if they lived elsewhere in the Italian 
Peninsula, and for eight days if they came from beyond the Alps. 

Angela must have remained in Rome, therefore, for at least two 
whole weeks, taking lodgings, as the others did, in one or other of the 
hospices assigned for this purpose, or in someone’s private house. 

It was during the course of this pilgrimage that she was seen and 
recognised by one of the Chamberlains of His Holiness, in other words 
by one of the dignitaries of the Pontifical Court: Piero Della Puglia was 
thus in a favourable position to obtain permission for Angela to be ad- 
mitted to the Pope’s presence. Messer Piero Della Puglia had known An- 
gela on the occasion of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem: “He had made the 
journey with us”, Romano would say, and Nazari, in his Vita , would 
write that “he had made the voyage to the Holy Land on the same 
boat ”. 51 

There is no detail whatever about the audience; Romano just notes 
that Angela was allowed to kiss the foot of His Holiness. He adds, 
though, that the Pope “begged her to consent to remain at Rome in the 
‘luoghi pii’ there; but with very humble words she excused herself and 
took her leave. That same evening she left Rome, fearing that His Holi- 
ness might compel her to remain there out of holy obedience, and re- 
turned to Brescia”. 

At this point a question spontaneously arises: Is this second “flight” 
authentic or is it just Romano superimposing on Angela a kind of code 
of behaviour when there are similar situations? Even more so as, when 
she was in Venice, Angela had been among her own people, as it were, 
with her cousin Bartolomeo and the faithful Romano, whereas at Rome 
she had gone with strangers, probably one of a group, and it would have 
been awkward, at the very least, to impose a sudden departure on the 
whole group. Without mentioning the fact that no-one would have 
wanted to break off the cycle of visits laid down for gaining the Jubilee, 
and so forfeit the right to the promised indulgences, after having en- 
dured the risks of such a long and tiring journey. The “flight”, therefore, 
does not appear very likely. Moreover, none of the early biographers 

51 D17. 


(Nazari, Bellintani, Gondi, Faino, Doneda) relates this particular detail, 
not even as a hypothesis. 

As for Nazari, in his Vita (and here again we wonder if he had not, 
by any chance, tried to check the details of the episode by questioning 
Romano or others about them later on), he writes that Angela, “excusing 
herself with very humble words (because she had it in mind to establish 
the devout Rule of St Ursula, in other words the congregation of the 
Virgins, which she later did), took her leave of His Holiness with his 
kind permission and returned to Brescia, all jubilant at having venerated 
those holy Relics”. 

And this version seems more likely to us than the “flight”. 


According to the most widespread and generally accepted Merician 
tradition, Venice, Rome, and for some authors even Milan, are stages 
bracketed together because in each of these cities, the same kind of epi- 
sode was repeated: Angela was invited to stay on. Then, with the pas- 
sage of time, these simple invitations were examined to find out the possi- 
ble reasons behind them. They were even seen as an offer made to An- 
gela to become involved in organising or directing the kinds of activities 
connected with the “luoghi pii”. 

It all goes back to the account of Antonio Romano, who had been 
an eye-witness during Angela’s stay in Venice, but not at Rome or at Mi- 
lan. We will see how his story evolved over the centuries, setting out 
first a clear statement of the three initial incidents. 

a) The oldest testimonies 

Let us summarise the three invitations mentioned by Romano: 

- At Venice-. Angela was transferred from the monastery of the Holy Sep- 
ulchre to the Hospital for Incurables. The nobles of the city, appreciat- 
ing her sanctity, begged her to remain “for the general good of the 
‘luoghi pii’ of that illustrious City”. In his Vita , Nazari adds one further 
point: those who invited Angela to remain were the “Illustrious Gentle- 
men supervisors of the Luoghi Pii”. 52 As Angela was a guest of a “luogo 
pio” at that particular time, it was only natural that this gesture should 
come from those in charge of the house. For fear that the Patriarch 

52 ibid. 


might intervene compelling her to stay, Angela had preferred to leave 
the city that same evening. 

- At Rome: Romano was not present here; he had simply heard the 
story of the episode from the person concerned herself: Clement VII had 
begged Angela to remain at Rome in the “luoghi pii” there, but she had 
taken her leave and left the same evening for Brescia. Regarding this 
matter we have already seen that Nazari in the Vita speaks about a re- 
turn to Brescia “with the kind permission of the Pope ”. 53 

- At Milan: Here also, Romano was not present. According to his tes- 
timony, the Duke had simply asked Angela to remain in his city, but she 
had excused herself and had left. 

Landini 54 makes no reference to these three events. Bellintani, on 
the other hand, relates that “she arrived at Venice and the rays of her 
sanctity soon spread in that large City ... Moreover, seeing how prudent 
she was, the Gentlemen supervisors of the Luoghi Pii entreated her to 
remain there for the good of those same places ”. 55 And then at Rome — 
still following Bellintani, who takes care not to omit the detail that An- 
gela had “made the visits at leisure” - the Pope “received her with great 
kindness and spoke to her, urging her to remain in Rome; but she, 
knowing what she had to carry out by divine command, humbly excused 
herself, and with the papal permission and blessing, returned to Bre- 
scia ”. 56 But when Bellintani says that on her way to Milan, Angela had 
visited, consoled and given edification to Duke Sforza, he does not add 
that she had been invited by him to remain . 57 

Gondi in his turn relates: “Some Gentlemen and noble Ladies who 
were visiting her observed her deeply spiritual reasoning, her dignified 
and modest manners, and her prudent humility, so very attractive; these 
Gentlemen and Ladies, supervisors of the Luoghi Pii, with a holy vio- 
lence wanted to keep her in Venice; but as Angela had always made her 
will turn towards the divine pleasure and to the greater glory of God, 
the God who had chosen her to establish a different kind of work in the 

53 Ibid. 

54 D15. 

55 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms. VI. 30, ch.16, f.[13v]: “venuta in Venetia, tosto i raggi della 
santita sua si sparsero per quella gran Citta... Et veduta, di piii, la sua prudenza, sforzavanla i 
Signori soprastanti de Luoghi Pii a trattenersi quivi per beneficio di quelli”. 

56 Ibid . , ch.17, f.[14r]: “molto benignamente la riceve, et parlolle, esortandola a starsene in Roma; 
ma essa, che sapeva quello che per divino ordine haveva da eseguire, humilmente iscusatasi et hauta 
la licenza et la benedittione papale, ritornossene a Brescia”. 

57 Ibid., ch.19, f.[14v]. 


City of Brescia, that very same evening, after these entreaties, ... she de- 
parted for Brescia”. 58 

Gondi continues by relating that Pietro Della Puglia “rejoiced to 
see her again at Rome and, having kindly made her the offer, he took her 
in to kiss the foot of His Holiness, who had been well informed by his 
Chamberlain about the saintly virtues of this Virgin; and so she was in- 
vited by the Pontiff to stay on in Rome to help with the Luoghi Pii. How- 
ever, the Pope was content to accept the excuses she proffered him, and 
giving her his papal blessing, he allowed her to return to Brescia”. 59 

Concerning the journey to Milan, Ottavio Gondi says about the vis- 
it to the Duke: “... and she was invited with great warmth by the Duke 
himself to remain in Milan, so that Venice, Rome and Milan, the most 
important cities of all Italy, wanted, with a holy zeal, to steal this terres- 
trial Angel from Brescia”. 60 

Bernardino Faino, superior general of the Company of St Ursula, and 
Carlo Doneda, one of the leading members of the ecclesiastical tribunal 
for the process of canonisation, both of them Brescians and therefore 
familiar with the tradition, historiography and iconography of the “Bles- 
sed Angela” (in Brescia she had already been called this since the 16th 
century), naturally go along with Romano’s line of thought. For both of 
them, the invitation to remain in the three cities is the natural outcome 
of genuine admiration for a woman whose sanctity would have helped to 
irradiate serenity and peace among those lodged in the various “luoghi 
pii”. They had both taken Romano’s and Nazari’s words literally and 
had made no attempt to find any hidden or indirect meanings in them. 

58 Gondi, I ita, op. cit ., pp. 45-46: “... essendo visitata da Gentilhuomini et Gentildonne, scorgendosi 
li suoi ragionamenti pieni de spirito, i suoi costumi cosi ben composti, e la prudentissima humilta 
tanto attrattiva, quei Signori e Signore soprastanti a luoghi pii con una santa violenza la volevano 
trattenere a Venetia; ma, come sempre Angela haveva voltato il volere suo al beneplacito divino e 
alia sua maggiore gloria, da cui era eletta per differente negotio da fondarsi nella Citta di Brescia, la 
sera medesima, doppo questi preghi, ... si parti alia volta di Brescia”. 

Ibid., p.47: “rallegratosi di rividerla a Roma, dopo essersegli amorevolmente offerto, l’introdusse 
a bacciare il Piede a sua Santita, il quale benissimo informato dal Cameriere delle qualita sante della 
Vergine, tu invitata dal Pontefice per aiuto de luoghi pii a trattenersi a Roma; contentossi pero il 
Papa d’accettare le scuse propostegli da Angela, lasciandola con la benedittione pontificate ritomare 
a Brescia”. 

Ibid., p.49: “e dal medesimo Duca con molta caldezza fu invitata a restare a Milano, si che Vene- 
tia, Roma e Milano, citta principalissime di tutta I’ltalia, volevano con santo zelo furare a Brescia 
questa terrestre Angela”. 


b) The later interpretations 

The hidden or indirect meanings owe their origin to the pen of a 
French author whom we have already mentioned, drawing the reader’s 
attention to his lack of critical discipline. We are referring to Jean-Hu- 
gues Quarre . 61 

It will suffice to see how Romano’s simple statements have been 
blown up by Quarre, even if it was with the good intention of drawing 
attention to God’s marvels, unduly ignored (in his opinion) and con- 
cealed under the dry and concise language of the early biographers. 

With an apologetic purpose in mind, Quarre “wants to catch sight 
of’ (this is our version), or “catches sight of’ (this would be his version) 
a whole project which, in his imagination, gradually gets bigger and big- 
ger, from “ taking care of the luoghi pit ” to “ taking over their direction” . Thus, 
with reference to the invitation made to Angela to remain in Venice, he 
writes in La vie de la Bienheureuse Mere Angele : “They [the gentlemen and 
ladies] wanted to force her by all kinds of importunities to remain in Ven- 
ice: and as they were responsible for the conduct and the superintend- 
ence of the Houses of Piety and of Charity, they did all in their power 
to persuade Angela to take care of them, which she absolutely refused 
to do ”. 62 

But a hundred and fifty pages later, the project has already taken on 
larger proportions: they want to keep Angela in order to entrust to her 
“the direction” of all the “luoghi pii” in the city: “She already possessed 
such a high reputation for virtue and charity that, when she returned 
from Jerusalem, the leading Lords and Ladies of Venice wanted to keep 
her by force, in order to put all the places dedicated to charity in this 
great City under her direction ”. 63 

When, following the lead of Romano who relates the episode, 
Quarre speaks about the invitation addressed by the Pope to Angela to 
remain at Rome “in these luoghi pii”, he will boldly transform the sim- 
ple words of the Brescian merchant into the following: “The Sovereign 
Pontiff, who had learnt about Angela’s virtues from his Chamberlain, in- 
vited her to remain in Rome and to take over the government of the 

61 Ct supra, Pt.I, Ch.II, l.e. 

“ Quarre, Vie, op. cit., II, c.3, p.298: “Ils la voulurent comme forcer par toutes sortes d’importuni- 
tez de demeurer a Venise: et comme ils avoient la conduite et Pintendance des Maisons de Piete et de 
Charite, ils firent tous leurs efforts pour persuader a Angele d’en prendre le soin, ce qu’elle refusa 

63 Ibid., Ill, c.3, p.456: “Elle estoit deja en une si haute reputation de vertu et de charite, que re- 
tournant de Ierusalem, les principaux Seigneurs et Dames de Venise voulurent la retenir par force, 
pour mettre en sa direction tous les lieux de cette grande Ville destinez a la charite”. 


places of devotion intended for charity towards the neighbour”. 64 And 
again: “It is certain that shortly afterwards, Angela being at Rome, His 
Holiness invited her to stay on and to take over the stewardship and the 
government of some of the houses of the poor and hospitals”. 65 

These texts — let us recall that Quarre’s work was published in 1648, 
and that an extract of the most important biographical information had 
been widely circulated among the Ursuline religious, as we have already 
mentioned in Part 1 66 — seem to have influenced some later biographers. 
Not Faino, however, as we have seen, and even less so Doneda who, 
confronted with the sources, maintains here also his customary critical 

But Quarre’s influence comes through in some other biographies, as 
for example, the Vie de la B. Mere Angele de Bresse, included in La Gloire 
de Sainte Ursule, published at Valenciennes in 1656, 67 in a Compendio pub- 
lished at Rome in Italian and French in 1768, 68 in a short biography of 
1767, 69 and in the biography of Canon Parenty, edited at Arras in 1842. 70 

Noteworthy is the way they all agree in attributing the merit and 
the motive behind the invitation to assume the charge of responsibility 
which Quarre speaks about to Angela’s sanctity, so clearly manifested on 
the occasion of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and in the course of her 
devout conversations. None of them mentions anything about previous 
experience or competence acquired in the field of relief work or organi- 
sation. But all of them, from Quarre onwards, either by paraphrasing 
or by literally copying him, project onto the Company of St Ursula a 
whole alleged programme of charity work which Angela is supposed to 
have assigned to her members. 

64 Ibid., II, c.3, p.302: “Le souverain Pontife qui avoit appris de son Chambrier les vertus d’ Angele, 
la convia de demeurer a Rome, et prendre le gouvernement des lieux de devotion destinez a la cha- 
rite du prochain”. 

65 Ibid., Ill, c.3, p.456: “II est certain que peu de temps apres, Angele estant a Rome, sa Sainctete 
l’invita d’y faire son sejour pour prendre l’intendance et le gouvernement de quelques maisons de 
pauvres et d’hospitaux”. 

“ Cf. supra, Pt.I, Ch.II, l.e. 

67 La Gloire de S. Ursule, divisee en deux parties. La premiere contient PHistoire et Martyre des on%e mille 
Vierges, avec quelques considerations la-dessus. La deuxieme est un abrege de la vie cT aucunes filles de S. Ursule, 
signalees en saintete. Recueillie par un Pere de la Compagnie de Jesus. A Valentiennes, de l’Imprimerie de 
Jean Boucher, au nom de Iesus, 1656. 

68 Compendio della Vita della Bea/a Angela Merici, Roma, G. Salomoni, 1768; Abrege de la vie de la Bien- 
heureuse Angele Merici Fondatrice de I’lnstitut de S. Ursule, Rome, G. Salomoni, 1768. 

69 Carlo Massini, Seconda raccolta di Vile de’ Santi per ciaschedun giorno delP anno ovvero Appendice alia 
Raccolta delle Vite de’ Santi pubblicata l’anno 1763... Novembre. In Roma 1767, Nella Stamperia 
di Marco Pagliarini, pp.24-29; B.Vat, R.G. Vite V, 752 (11). 

70 Abbe Parenty, Histoire de Sainte Angele, Fondatrice de I’Ordre de Ste-Ursule, suivie de notes historiques 
sur les Communautes d’Ursulines au nord de !a France et de la Belgique, Arras, Brissy, 1842. 


The following passage from Quarre’s extract published in the 
Chroniques de I’Ordre is a good example of this: “[Angela] gave as a rule 
to her daughters themselves to go and visit the afflicted to console and 
to instruct them, to bring comfort to the poor, to hasten to the hospitals, 
to give their services to the sick and to offer themselves humbly for 
any kind of work where charity might call them. Finally, Angela wanted 
the daughters of St Ursula to take on all kinds of charitable practices, in 
order to help in the conversion and the salvation of all men. And al- 
though her daughters were free, and for the most part people of quality, 
she made them become as slaves of all, in imitation of the Apostle, so as 
to win many to God ”. 71 

We are not aware of any document which sets out such a pro- 
gramme for the virgins of the Company: none of Angela’s Writings nor 
those of Cozzano make any reference to it. So it is surprising to hear 
Quarre speaking about it as if it was something fixed and established. 
The fact that geographically he was far removed from the Brescian scene 
may excuse him, as he could have been misled by an apparent similarity 
between the secular institution of Angela Merici and that of St Vincent 
de Paul’s Daughters of Charity, who had been founded as non-religious, 
precisely so that they might dedicate themselves to carrying out the 
works of mercy. 

On the other hand, we have already pointed out the free rein 
Quarre gives to his imagination, to say nothing of his deliberate intent to 

It is even more surprising to find a biographer as serious as Lom- 
bardi borrowing the fundamental idea of this passage from Quarre and 
setting it out without any discussion. However, it is understandable. The 
Ursulines of the “venerable Monastery of Via Vittoria” in Rome had 
among their spiritual reading books not only the printed edition of 
Quarre but also the extract contained in the Chroniques, and these were 
the books which they had presented to the ecclesiastical tribunal for the 
process of beatification and canonisation. Lombardi, who wrote the Vita 
on behalf of these same Ursulines at Rome, had put great reliance on 

71 La Vie de la B. Mere Angele de Bresse, Premiere lnstitutrice de I’Ordre des Ursulines , tiree du livre de sa 
vie, composee par le R.P. Hugues Quarre, Prestre de l’Oratoire, sur l’ltalien du R.P. Ottavio Flo- 
rentine, in Les Chroniques de I’Ordre des Ursulines, op. cit., p.22. Cf. supra, Pt.I, Ch.II, l.e. “[Angele] 
donna pour loy a ses mesmes filles d’ailer chercher les affligez pour les consoler, et les instruire, de 
soulager les pauvres, de courir aux Hospitaux, de servir les malades et de se presenter humblement a 
toutes sortes de travaux oil la charite les appelleroit. Enfin Angele veut que les filles de Saincte Ur- 
sule s’employent en toutes sortes d’exercices de charite, pour contribuer a la conversion et au salut 
de tous les hommes; et quoy que ses filles fussent libres, et la plupart de qualite, elle les obligea de se 
rendre comme esclaves de tous, a l’imitation de l’Apotre, afin d’en gagner plusieurs a Dieu”. 


these texts, often quoting them in his foot-notes, but without any critical 
evaluation. And, in this particular instance, he had drawn a conclusion 
from them 72 which even Quarre himself had not dared to do: “If after- 
wards Blessed Angela exercised her charity with works of mercy to those 
who were in need close at hand, also in the hospitals and other similar 
Luoghi Pii, the writers of her Life say nothing about it. But of necessity 
this can be deduced from what she commanded her daughters to do, and 
from that much which we see she did herself as recorded by Nazari ”. 73 

But Lombardi, always so careful to give full references, says noth- 
ing here as to where Angela had given such a command. As for the ref- 
erence to Nazari, it is at the very least unwarranted, as there is no phrase 
anywhere in his work which lends itself to such an interpretation. 

In short, we have here a classical example of a simple, straightfor- 
ward piece of information, namely the invitation extended to Angela to 
stay “for the good of the luoghi pii”, being enlarged upon for the sake of 
apologetics. It was almost as if a pedestal of exterior glory had to be con- 
structed in order to throw into relief the spiritual features of the Saint. 

It will be useful to examine the position taken with regard to this 
subject by Teresa Ledochowska, whose work is chronologically the last 
comprehensive study on St Angela and carries weight on account of its 
far-reaching influence and some of its intrinsic qualities. 

Unaware of the circumstances which very likely had led to Angela’s 
transfer from the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre to the Hospital for 
Incurables, Teresa Ledochowska has tried to get at the meaning behind 
the events and has arrived at conclusions which we cannot share about 
what happened in Venice, and consequently in Rome. 

The whole chapter entitled “The Beginnings of Angela’s Aposto- 
late” 74 is aimed at building up the picture of a woman actively engaged 
in an apostolate definitely connected with the circle of the Divino Amo- 
re 75 and the Hospital for Incurables. This activity, fruit of Angela’s wis- 
dom, intelligence and experience, would be the real reason behind the re- 
peated invitations begging her not to leave. The invitation issued by the 

72 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.72 for Venice; p.74 for Rome. 

73 Ibid., p. 157: “Se poi anchc negli spedali, e in altri simiglianti Luoghi pii la B. Angela esercitasse la 
sua carita verso i prossimi bisognosi con opere di misericordia, nol dicono gli scrittori della sua 
Vita. Ma pur di necessita convien inferirlo, e dall’aver F.lla cib comandato alle sue figlie, e da quel 
tanto che di lei stessa veggiam ricordato dal Nazari”. 

74 Ledochowska, Angela, op. cit., I, pp.52-74. We will be drawing some other quotations from this 
chapter “The Beginnings of Angela’s Apostolate”, without giving each page-reference. 

75 Association founded towards the end of the 15th century with high spiritual aims and devoted to 
the works of mercy. Membership of the Divino Amore had to remain secret. ANTONIO ClSTELUNl, 
Figure, op. cit., collected several important documents about it. See Appendix Note to this chapter. 


Venetian nobility is interpreted as being a recognition of the organisa- 
tional skills that Angela had already given proof of in Brescia. In other 
words, they had evidently wanted to entrust to her the responsibility of 
coordinating the apostolic good works carried out by groups of women 
associated with the men in the government of the “luoghi pii”, “as An- 
gela had done at Brescia”. 

In our view this hypothesis contradicts the contemporary evidence 
which we have collected together and reported about the “good offices 
for her neighbour” carried out by Angela, and it also goes against the 
rectifications we have made to some of the inaccuracies which had been 
written about the activity of Angela’s “friends” among the Incurables . 76 

On the other hand, the seriousness of purpose behind Teresa Le- 
dochowska’s search for a new face to Angela Merici prompts us to re- 
flect on the possible source of her line of reasoning. 

It seems to us to have originated in the work of Cistellini, a work 
highly appreciated by T. Ledochowska for the novelty of his interpreta- 
tions and for his attempt to place the biographical material in the histori- 
cal setting which served as the backdrop for it. One of her aims seems 
to have been to bring to light this connection between Angela’s life and 
her historical background (and in particular, with the Divino Amore 

A certain confusion seems to have been caused unintentionally by 
Cistellini (as we will see in the short excursus in the Appendix Note to 
this chapter), who gives the impression that a large number of Brescians, 
members of the Divino Amore, were involved in the Hospital for Incur- 
ables. This leads T. Ledochowska to conclude that “What was peculiar 
to it [to the Hospital] was that it belonged to the Company of Divino 
Amore”, and that, as a result, the members of that movement were di- 
rectly involved in the care of the sick. 

But it is above all the information regarding Isabetta Prato, report- 
ed in the Annali del Luogo Pio delle Convertite cioe della Carita 77 
and in the Vita di Gaura Gambara , 78 which has led her to deduce that 
“Very soon a group of women was formed also, working with the 
Brothers of Divino Amore: among them were Countess Laura Gambara, 
belonging to a high patrician family in Brescia, ...; with Laura worked 
another young widow, Elisabetta Prato, whose name is a household 
word among the first Ursulines”. 

From the charitable activity of these two women (we know nothing 

76 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III; and infra, Appendix Note to this chapter. 

7 ' Cf. supra, Pt.I, Ch.I, 2,c. 

78 FAINO, Brescia Beaia, op. cit., BQ, ms. E. 1.2, p.4 13. Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III, g. 


about there being a group) and on the presumption that nearly all Ange- 
la’s friends belonged to the movement of the Divino Amore (and there- 
fore to the circle of those who gravitated around the “Incurables”) it was 
an easy step to arrive at the following statement: "... it becomes clear 
that Angela played an active part in all the work at the ‘Incurabili’ ”, and 
then to conclude that “the Company of St Ursula was inspired by that 
movement, even if not, at least at its inception, a parallel foundation for 

But, in the light of the documentation we have recently discovered 
and cited in this study, these two statements are no longer tenable. 

Moreover, neither the iconography of past centuries, nor the Italian 
historiography, we have already mentioned this but it must be repeated, 
nor local tradition and devotion have ever attributed to Angela Merici 
any charitable activity on behalf of the sick, and even less any role in the 
organisation of the “luoghi pii”. 

During the interrogations of the “Processo Nazari”, neither Gia- 
como Chizzola nor Agostino Gallo, both of whom held some kind of 
charge or office at the Hospital for Incurables, established any link what- 
soever between Angela and that “luogo pio” or other similar ones; they 
made no reference at all to the care of the sick or visiting them as a spe- 
cific work of mercy which Angela would have frequently undertaken. 

Before closing this long parenthesis on any activity Angela is sup- 
posed to have carried out in the “luoghi pii”, as a result of the invitation 
addressed to her by the nobles of the Venetian aristocracy, we will add 
two further remarks. 

Marin Sanudo, 79 so attentive to the events which touched on the re- 
ligious, political, civil or military life of the Serenissima, and so diligent 
in noting anything which concerned patrician society, did not make the 
slightest reference to Angela’s presence in Venice, or to the interest it 
aroused among the nobles of the city. And yet his brother Antonio had 
been “podesta” of Brescia from 30 November 1522 to May 1524, and it 
was during that time that the piece of land of the Garzetta had been set 
aside for the construction of the Brescian hospital for Incurables. Anto- 
nio had returned to Venice at the expiry of his mandate. If Angela, at 
that time, had enjoyed such great renown at Brescia, Antonio Sanudo 
would not have been able to ignore this woman who, on her return from 
Jerusalem, caused such a stir among the nobility. It seems obvious to us 
that he would have spoken about her then to his brother, and the latter 

79 Cf. supra, l.a. 


would not have missed the opportunity of adding some extra detail in 
his chronicle, unless, perhaps, the invitation to stay had been too infor- 
mal to attract the chronicler’s interest. 

There is still another factor which makes it very unlikely that over- 
all responsibility would have been handed over to one person: the spe- 
cific structure of the Venetian hospitals, whose organs of government 
were “lay, collegial and elective, consisting of persons from different 
levels of society”; to the religious fell the spiritual side of things. 80 


We have already mentioned the pilgrimage Angela made with An- 
tonio Romano to Mantua, as it was on the return journey that they had 
passed through Solferino to beg a favour from the Lord of Castiglione. 81 
The goal of this pilgrimage was the tomb of Osanna Andreasi. Born in 
1449 of the noble Nicola and of Agnese Gonzaga, Osanna had become a 
Dominican tertiary at the age of fifteen. After mystical marriage, Christ 
had conferred on her the stigmata, the pains of the crown of thorns and 
the piercing of the heart. To her renown for sanctity was added also the 
lustre of her contacts with the court of the Duke of Mantua. Angela 
could have heard about this mystic while the latter was still alive, but 
nothing definite about this has come down to us. 

Osanna had died in 1505, and already by 1514 Leo X had ordered 
the canonical process to be set up for her beatification and given permis- 
sion for her cult to be celebrated. Her remains were reposing at that time 
in the church of San Domenico, 82 and this is where Antonio Romano 
had accompanied Angela. As a matter of fact, the way he expresses him- 
self when relating the episode: “We had gone to Mantua to pay a visit 
to the Madre Suor Osanna” must have given rise to some uncertainty 
among the biographers, torn between the logical significance of the dates 
and what was actually said. Round about 1520 Osanna was already dead, 
but Romano relates the fact as if it was a question of visiting someone 
still alive, and this is how it was understood and repeated by Bellintani 
and Gondi. 83 From this it could be deduced that the two saints had 

80 Maria FRANCESCA Tiepolo, G/i Ospedali , in Difesa delta Sanita a Venecia - Secoli XIII-X1X, Cata- 
logo di Mostra documentaria, a cura del Ministero per i Beni culturali e ambientali. Archivio di 
Stato di Venezia, 23 giugno - 30 settembre 1979, p.63. 

81 Cf. supra, Pt.ll, Ch.IV, d. 

82 ALESSANDRO Magnaguti, La Beata Osanna degli Andreasi. Biografia illustrata da quattro fotoinci- 
sioni e cinque xilografie. Gregoriana editrice, Padova, 1949, passim. 

“ Bellintani, Vita, op. BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[14v]; Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp.48-49. 



known each other earlier, a view which Lombardi expresses without, 
however, supporting or rejecting it . 84 

Doneda, on the other hand, thinks it necessary to make it clear that, 
given the circumstances, the pilgrimage had been simply a devotional 
one to the tomb of Blessed Osanna . 85 

Besides Osanna Andreasi, Bellintani and Gondi mention another 
woman, Stefana Quinzani. An almost illiterate servant-girl from Orzi- 
nuovi, she had moved to Crema and then to Soncino. She also had re- 
ceived the stigmata and had been a Dominican tertiary before becoming 
the foundress of the Dominican monastery of Soncino. 

After the death of Osanna, it was Stefana who had taken over her 
role as a kind of spiritual mother to Gian Francesco Gonzaga, and it was 
to Stefana that the lords of Mantua and Ferrara used to come. The Doge 
of Venice and the gentlemen of various places all aspired to keep her in 
their respective cities. Ludovico il Moro and Francesco Sforza II had 
both turned to her for consolation. 

Stefana had been to Brescia several times , 86 staying for certain with 
the Dominicans, and it is there that Angela could easily have got to 
know her and to establish bonds of spiritual friendship with her. It is 
even possible that Stefana had spoken to Angela about Blessed Osanna, 
kindling in her a devotion to the stigmatist of Mantua and the desire to 
make a pilgrimage to her tomb. The “Processo Nazari” makes no refer- 
ence to this relationship between Angela and Stefana. Bellintani is the 
first to speak about it (and we must not forget that Bellintani had lived 
in Brescia for a long time and so would have been able to collect to- 
gether information about this friendship between the two women). He 
says: “She also had a great friendship with the Blessed Steffana degli 
Orzi, a place in Brescian territory ”, 87 but he does not add anything to en- 
lighten this statement. Gondi and Faino affirm that Angela had visited 
Stefana at Soncino in the course of her pilgrimage to Varallo , 88 but nei- 
ther of them has attempted to trace back to the possible origin of this 
friendly relationship which, in our opinion, started within the Brescian 

Only Lombardi, looking for an explanation, refers to the “close fa- 
miliarity and friendship” between Angela, Osanna and Stefana, and he 

M Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.57. 

85 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.138, n.21. 

86 Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., “B. Stefana Quinzani”, pp.36-46, passim. 

87 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms. B. VI. 30, f.[14v]: “Hebbe anco molta famigliarita con la Beata 
Steffana degli Orzi, luogo del territorio bresciano”. 

88 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp.48-49; Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.38. 


attributes it to Angela’s devotion to the Passion of Christ, the stigmata 
of which the other two were carrying in their flesh. 89 

Stefana died on 2 January 1530. If Angela’s first pilgrimage to 
Varallo really did take place between 1528-1529, it can be assumed that 
Angela had been able to see her friend some time earlier, when Blessed 
Stefana was already seriously ill. 

In spite of her extreme caution regarding any extraordinary mystical 
phenomena, Angela had not hesitated to make friends with a stigmatist, 
or to show veneration for another one already dead. Her discernment 
and intuitive wisdom helped her to evaluate people and events accurate- 
ly 90 and to view things with a certain prudent suspicion which, however, 
turned into reverence as soon as she recognised God’s intervention. 


Varallo is situated at the confluence of the river Sesia and the tor- 
rent Mastellone, in the present province of Vercelli (north-west Italy). At 
the time of the pilgrimages we are going to speak about, Varallo be- 
longed to the State of Milan. 

A Franciscan friar who had formerly been Custodian of the Holy 
Land, Bernardino Caimi, had the idea of reconstructing the Holy Places 
of Jerusalem on the hill behind the village, and this “Sacro Monte” is 
still visited today by pilgrims. 

The friar had started to put his plan into operation in 1491, and un- 
til his death in 1499, he expended all his efforts on it. His aim was to of- 
fer a catechesis of the story of the Redemption, reproducing the scenes 
and background of it in model form. For every mystery of Christ’s life, 
for every event of his Passion, a chapel was planned, where the scene 
would be reconstructed with a careful eye to historical truth, interpreted 
through the medium of lifesize statues. From the very beginning, well- 
known artists of merit, such as Gaudenzio Ferrari with his son Gero- 
lamo and his disciple Fermo Stella, had engaged their intuition and crea- 
tive skills in the project. But the whole complex of forty-five chapels 
would not be finally completed until the 20th century. 

The direct language of these scenes with their startlingly realistic 
statues, was meant to evoke in the pilgrims a strong emotion, and the 
fame of this sacred place spread rapidly. 

89 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit p.57. 

90 Cf. Process o Na^ari, D16, the deposition of Agostino Gallo. 


Angela went to Varallo twice, but we only know the exact date of 
the second visit - August 1532, as reported by Agostino Gallo who had 
accompanied her. The first pilgrimage, according to Gallo, had taken 
place soon after the return from Rome, but this information is not much 
help in dating the event. 

It was during one of the two return journeys that Angela would 
have made her visit to Francesco Sforza II. It must have happened dur- 
ing the first one, as Gallo makes no reference to the fact when he speaks 
about the second journey, in which he himself had participated. 

But Angela knew the Duke only in June 1528, and so the first jour- 
ney must have taken place after this date, but before 1529 when the 
threats of war forced the Gallo family to leave their town to take refuge 
in Cremona. Thus, it could have been undertaken in the summer or au- 
tumn of that same year 1528, or in the spring of 1529, given that Nazari 
in his Vita notes that it took place “the year following the meeting”. On 
her return to Brescia, according to Romano’s testimony, Angela passed 
through Milan in order to greet the Duke; he begged her in vain to 
remain in that city. This would be the third “invitation to remain” ad- 
dressed to Angela. 

At that particular time, to tell the truth, Milan was in the hands of 
the imperial troops; Angela could have met Francesco Sforza only in 
some place belonging to the Milanese, as Doneda also notes: “It must be 
said that she did not meet the Duke in Milan, but in some other place be- 
longing to that State. I do not know which one”. 91 

Lombardi affirms that Romano took part in that journey, 92 but this 
seems unlikely, given the latter’s silence about what happened on the 
pilgrimage and the absence of any personal memories. Lombardi indi- 
cates the itinerary Angela would have followed during the first part of 
the journey: she would have left Cremona during her stay there, and 
gone in the direction of Crema and Lodi, making a detour to Soncino to 
pay a visit to Stefana Quinzani. This, however, is only conjecture. 

Teresa Ledochowska sets out very well the whole basic problem in 
putting a date to Angela’s first journey to Varallo. We can only agree 
and conclude with her that “the question therefore remains an open 
one”. 93 

When Angela had visited the “Sacro Monte” for the first time, the 

91 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.141, n.26: “e forza dire ch’Ella si abboccasse col Duca non in Milano, 
ma in qualche altro luogo di quello Stato. Qual poi fosse, io non so dirlo”. 

92 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.79. 

93 Ledochowska, Angela, op. cit., I, p.97, n.37. 


buildings had scarcely been started. Even so, she had been able to con- 
template the group of chapels dedicated to the Nativity, the Adoration 
of the Magi and the Shepherds, the Presentation in the Temple, the 
warning given to Joseph to flee to Egypt, as well as those of the Last 
Supper, the Crucifixion of Jesus, the Deposition and the Holy Sepulchre. 
The figurative part (statues and paintings), however, was certainly not 

Angela must have felt a whole surge of memories sweep through 
her, enabling her to relive the spiritual experience of the pilgrimage to 
the Holy Land. It is certainly not surprising that she wanted to go back 
once more to Varallo. This she did in the summer of 1532, with Ago- 
stino Gallo and his sister Ippolita in the same party. In his deposition of 
1568, Gallo would state quite firmly that he was the only one left: “out 
of the fourteen that we were, all are dead except me”. When Nazari 
writes, in the Vita, that Angela went there “accompanied by the same 
Gallo, his sister, and twelve other spiritual companions”, he clearly 
means this to be understood that Angela’s companions numbered four- 
teen. Neither of them seems to have attached any importance to the 
members of the party, all of whom remain shrouded in anonymity. 

We have to wait for Faino before meeting a list of names, but he 
himself says that this list is based more on guess-work than on any defi- 
nite documentation. In his Miscellanea , 94 he goes in search of twelve dis- 
ciples, twelve maiden travelling “companions”, thus excluding a priori 
- but with no sound foundation - any idea that the group could have 
been composed differently. He takes the first names from Cozzano’s 
Dichiara^ione della Bolla, which lists thirteen among the “numerous vir- 
gins who were the first-fruits of the Holy Spirit in this society”. Faino 
adds surnames to the Christian names, without evidently taking the trou- 
ble to see that they correspond with the true identity of the people, and 
from these he draws up a list of twelve virgins. When he publishes his 
Vita later, in 1672, he subsequently modifies the list, but still keeping 
the number to twelve. We will be looking at these names in the chapter 
on the foundation of the Company of St Ursula. Suffice it for the mo- 
ment to say that we have here another example of Faino’s completely 
unfounded deductions. Anyway, even if some of the first virgins of the 
Company had been in the pilgrimage party, there is no document at the 
moment which would warrant fixing their surnames and Christian names 
in a list. 

94 Faino, Miscellanea , BQ, ms.K.VI.l, f.167. Cf. also infra, Pt.II, Ch.VII, 3. a. 



a) The “Divino Amore” 

We thought it would be useful to collect together in this note some rele- 
vant facts about the Hospital for Incurables at Brescia, about the role played in it 
by some of the personalities of the Merician circle and about the Confraternity 
of the Most Holy Trinity established to help and support it. 

The “incurables” consisted largely of those afflicted with syphilis, a disease 
brought to Italy by the troops of Charles VIII. Out of repugnance and fear of 
contagion, these people were rejected and kept on the fringe of society. At the 
origin of the hospitals reserved for this kind of patient we find, at Brescia as al- 
ready in Rome and Genoa, some members of an association of a religious char- 
acter, which was aimed at a deep spiritual renewal of the individual, and was 
called the Company of Divine Love. 

This movement and its members were surrounded by the strictest secrecy, 
the infringement of which could lead to very severe punishments and even 
expulsion. Thus, Ettore Vernazza, founder of the Genoese group - the first 
group to leave behind complete statutes 1 - never spoke about it, not even to 
his daughter, the Venerable Giovanna Battista, abbess of the monastery delle 
Grazie at Genoa. This secrecy was kept so faithfully that it is extremely difficult 
to reconstruct the cadres and the lists of those belonging to the movement. 

Following the example perhaps of similar societies already established in 
various cities throughout the peninsula, 2 the Company of Divine Love was es- 
tablished in Genoa in 1497 3 to meet the need of restoring Christian life. It had 
as its aim “to plant and to cultivate in hearts ... divine love, namely, charity”. 4 It 
prescribed certain individual acts of piety and some regular community meet- 
ings; it demanded an integral Christian life; it fixed the number of its members 
at 36 laymen and 4 priests, and decided on a sum of money as a contribution; it 
established the office of “visitors to the sick” for the help of confreres who were 
sick, but did not lay down any specific activity to be carried out. 

A 1514 appendix to the Statutes prescribed that the Prior and his council 
should try and find some suitable way of helping the four protectors whom the 
Senate had put in charge of the virgins and women of the Conservatory, set up 
in the monastery of Sant’ Andrea. 5 There is no other reference to any direct 
works of charity. Each member chose his own, according to circumstances and 
means: to visit the sick or those in prison, to come to the aid of those ashamed 

1 Pio PASCH1NI, La beneficen^a in Italia e le “Compagnie del Divino Amore" nei primi decenni del Cinque- 
cento , Note storiche, Editrice F.I.U.C, Roma 1925, p.16. 

2 Pietro Tacchi Venturi SJ, Storia della Compagnia di Gesii in Italia narrata col sussidio di fonti 
inedite, vol.I, parte II, 3 a ediz., “La Civilta Cattolica”, Roma 1950, p.6, note 2. 

3 PASCHINI, La beneficen^a, op. cit., pp.5-11. 

4 Capitoli della Confraternita del Divino Amore , p.25. These are the Statutes discovered and published 
by Tacchi Venturi, Storia, op. cit., vol.I, parte II, pp.25-42. 

5 Ibid., pp.37-38. 


of their poverty, to put sinners back on the right path, to protect young people 
from vice. 

Tacchi Venturi published the Bull of 19 March 15 13, 6 in which Leo X wel- 
comed the request which the members had addressed to his predecessor, and, in 
view of the “uberes fructus quos producebant confratres clerici et laici nonnulla- 
rum societatum Divini Amoris nuncupatarum in pluribus Italiae civitatibus pie 
institutarum et ordinatarum”, he approved the said Company and granted it 
indulgences and privileges. The publication and the compulsory executorial 
process of this Bull did not take place until 6 November 1514. 

Notwithstanding the geographical dispersal of the society “in pluribus Ita- 
liae civitatibus”, numerically it does not seem to have expanded very much. 
More than thirty years after the foundation, Suor Battista Vernazza wrote, refer- 
ring probably to Genoa where it had started: “et hora sono quaranta di essa 
compagnia”. 7 

When, in 1515, Ettore Vernazza introduced the Company of Divine Love 
to Rome, his first thought was to set up a hospital for the men and women who 
had fallen victim to the “French disease”. Such was the origin of the hospital of 
S. Giacomo in Augusta. The Roman Company of Divine Love would die out 
following the Sack of Rome, 8 without any detriment to the hospital itself. 

After Pio Paschini’s study on the Divino Amore movement, the work of 
Cistellini, Figure della Riforma pretridentina , 9 brought to light some interesting 
documents, such as the “chapters” or Statutes of the Roman and Brescian 
confraternities, and a list entitled “Nomina fratrum Societatis D.A. in Urbe 
superstitum et defunctorum - 1524”, which is in the Biblioteca Comunale of 
Bergamo. 10 

On this list there are 56 names of those belonging to the confraternity, be- 
ginning from the time it was founded, as Vernazza’s name is included." Thir- 
teen of these had died already; twenty-five were living in Rome; the other eight- 
een belonged to different regions in Italy, but they could well have gravitated 
towards the Roman centre of the movement. Among the names of members on 
this list are those of five Brescians: Maffeo Poncarali, Bartolomeo Stella, Gio- 
vanni Zanetti, all three of them priests, and then Cesare Averoldi and a certain 
Viviano, a Brescian living in Rome. 

In 1525, a Brief of Clement VII gave permission for setting up in Brescia 
“unam Confraternitatem seu Societatem sub invocatione divini amoris et protec- 
tione gloriosi Ecclesiae doctoris beati Jeronimi”. 12 It was dated 6 March, and 

6 Ibid., pp.38-42. 

7 Ibid., p.36, note 1 on p.35. 

8 Paschini, La beneficens^a, op. tit., pp. 50-51, quoting C. B. PIAZZA, Delk opere pie di Roma , Trattato 
VII, cap. XX. 

9 CISTELLINI, Figure, op. tit., pp. 282-283; we are referring to his critical introduction on pp. 269-273 
and to his presentation of some of the members of the Company on pp.283-288. 

10 Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica, Archivio Silvestri, Carte Stella, scat.40, n.28. 

11 Vernazza, who is included here among those still alive, died in 1524; PASCHINI, Im berteficen^a, 
op. tit., p.31. 

12 Ibid., pp.99-100 and p.59. 


was addressed to two of the Brescian priests already inscribed on the Roman 
list: Zanetti and Poncarali. The confraternity, therefore, had not been officially 
established in Brescia before 1525. 

b) The Hospital for Incurables 

If the society of Divine Love had not yet been established as such in 
Brescia, at least three of its Brescian members, as we shall see, had been living 
there permanently since 1521: Zanetti, Poncarali and Stella. 

Bartolomeo Stella, a Brescian noble, had returned home after a period in 
Rome devoted to studies, enriched by the deep spiritual and practical experience 
he had gained at the hospital of S. Giacomo in Augusta. He had struck up a 
close friendship there with Cajetan of Thiene and with the members of Divino 
Amore — some of whom would later become Theatines, following Cajetan — 
and had embraced the priesthood. Only after this did he make his return to 

It is not easy to say if and what role he had played in promoting the foun- 
dation of the Hospital for the Incurables. Paschini also draws attention to this 
fact, while pointing out that Stella had been elected councillor of the Roman 
hospital of S. Giacomo on 2 May 1519, and that, on 9 April 1521, he had been 
present at Rome on the occasion of the drawing up of an official act of this 
hospital. 13 

On 31 December 1520, Leo X gave the city of Brescia permission to estab- 
lish and to build a hospital for the incurably sick poor “de consensu illorum ad 
quos spectat’ ’, and he granted to the officers, the sick, the staff and the confra- 
ternity members of the hospital - when they eventually would appear — all the 
privileges and indults, all the exemptions, graces and indulgences, with which 
he had enriched those who visited the church of the Roman hospital, and this 
under the same conditions. 14 

The Church thus gave the lead, with her approval, to the enterprise of the 
General Council of the city of Brescia (“de consensu illorum ad quos spectat”), 
encouraging the good will and enthusiasm of the various collaborators, thanks 
to the spiritual means at her disposal, namely indulgences. 

On 15 March 1521, the General Council itself decided in favour of the con- 
struction; 15 on 18 March, Giovanni Chizzola, Prior of the Major Hospital, with 
the approval of the Special Council of the lay confraternity members of this hos- 
pital, gave permission for certain rooms to be used so that a temporary start 
could be made. 16 On 27 April, the city General Council made note that the Hos- 
pital for Incurables had to be declared autonomous (independent, that is, of the 

u Ibid., p.57. 

14 ASB, Document i Vondapone Spedali Civili, Diplomatic*) 2°, sez. 18. Documenti di fondazione degli 
Incurabili ora delle Donne, carta, n.66, copy of the Brief “Nuper pro parte vestra”. 

15 ASC, Libri Provisionum Civitatis Brixiae, vol.528, f.l58r-v. 

16 ASB, Liber Provisionum Hospitalis Magni Brixiae, anno 1510 usque ad annum... Deposito dell’Ospedale, 
n.9, f.l61v. 


Major Hospital), as was the case of S. Giacomo in Rome, so that it could enjoy 
the same indulgences. 17 

On 2 May 1521, the “Consortium descriptorum” was convened; this was 
the assembly of the subscribers to the future hospital. Its purpose was to elect 
“from the said assembly a hundred and twenty-five persons from among the 
most suitable and capable, to form the Council of the aforesaid Hospital”. 
Among those elected we find three members of the Divino Amore, Stella, Pon- 
carali and Zanetti, as well as two other priests whom we will meet later, Aurelio 
Durante and Donato Savallo. The 122nd name on the list is Girolamo Paten- 
gola. 18 

When, on 8 May, they proceeded to the election of a “massaro” or adminis- 
trative treasurer, it was Bartolomeo Stella who was elected. 19 A notarial deed 
quoted by Cistellini would refer to him later as “instaurator, defensor et massa- 
rius”. 20 

It was only in 1523, on 16 April, that the General Council of the Territory 
of Brescia (followed on 18 April by the General Council of the City) made a gift 
of a piece of land for the erection of the hospital; 21 it was the site of the former 
fort of the Garzetta, which Venice had had dismantled and demolished in 1516. 
Bishop Paolo Zane laid the first stone on 29 June of that same year. 22 The date 
of 1521, given in some sources, is clearly wrong. 

In the meantime the hospital was gradually beginning to function “de 
facto”, using the restricted area that the Major Hospital had offered it on a tem- 
porary basis in the part previously set aside as a receiving centre for the poor. 

The new Hospital for Incurables, under the title of the Most Holy Trinity 
and of Charity, started being able to be used perhaps at the beginning of 1525. 
The minutes of 21 February 1525 record: “Ex noviter in civitate Brixiae erectus 
fuit aliud hospitale infirmorum incurabilium in quo sunt multi infirmi utriusque 
sexus”. 23 Is this referring to the new construction or to the “Incurables” section 
operating in the Major Hospital? 

In the minutes of 29 March 1571 there is an indication, albeit approximate, 
about the bedspace of the hospital constructed at the Garzetta: “There are never 

17 ASB, L ibro primo delli Consigli Generali dal 1521 al 1561 , Ospedale Incurabili, 27 aprile 1521, f.8v; 
Annali delTOspitale delli Incurabili di Brescia , Tomo 1, f.l. The Pope had raised the one at Rome to the 
status of an “archiospedale”, “as head of all the hospitals for the poor who were incurably ill, which 
had been or would be built, no matter where”. (Paschini, La beneficen^a, op. cit., p.36). 

18 L ibro primo delli Consigli Generali, op. cit., ff.5r-6v. 

19 Ibid., {.It. 

20 Cistellini, Figure, op. cit., p.83, n.48. 

21 ASC, Fondarione deirOspitale, Privilegi ed altro sin I’ anno 1629, ff. lr-3v; Liber Provisionum, C. VII. 529, 

22 BERNARDINO Vallabio, Cronichetta di Bernardino Vallabio 1506-1630, in Gl'KRRINI, Cronache Bre- 
sciane inedite, op. cit., vol.II, p. 175; Bhrnardino Faino, Thesaurus Ecclesiae Brixiae: omnium Episcopo- 
rum ab eius Apostolo S. Barnaba usque ad regnantem Eminentiss. et Reverendiss. D.D. Pe/rum Otthobonum..., 
“De Paulo Zane Episcopo 99°”, BQ, ms.E.1.1., f . 3 1 5 . 

2! Fonda^ione dell'Ospitale, op. cit., f.4. 


more than about 40-50 people in this place, both men and women stricken with 
the incurable disease”. 24 

This Hospital for Incurables, constructed on the quadrilateral base of the 
Garzetta, had been described by Canti in his satire to Patengola as being “peri- 
gnobile, egenum, pusillum”. 25 In Angela’s time it certainly must have looked 
very different from the imposing edifice depicted in an etching by F. Battaglioli 
and F. Zucchi in 1750, 26 after the subsequent enlargements had transformed it 
into the Hospital for Women, with the orphanage of the Pieta as an annexe. 

This transformation, which began in 1548 with the re-grouping of the men 
at the Major Hospital and the women at the Hospital for Incurables, with no 
further separation for the contagious disease, explains why the search for ar- 
chives material is sometimes difficult. In this same year, 1548, those orphan- 
girls who had found shelter initially with the penitent v women in the house of 
the Carita, were transferred to the Major Hospital, which had become a men’s 
hospital; while in 1562, those orphans who had been entrusted to the care of 
private persons had been reassembled in the former Hospital for Incurables, 
then a women’s hospital, thus forming the “luogo pio della Pieta” and it is this 
which required the enlargements mentioned above. 27 

“From the beginning”, according to a piece of evidence found by Doneda 
“in the Books of the Company”, 28 “the Ursulines of Brescia devoted them- 
selves” in these two establishments set aside for the orphans, “to teaching young 
girls Christian doctrine, as they still do; and also for a long time afterwards there 
were Ursulines in the Luogo Pio della Pieta for the education of the poor or- 
phans, and in the Major Hospital as mistresses of the abandoned girls”. 29 

With the details provided by Faino, one can get a better idea of the kind of 
setting in which the virgins of the Company carried out their educative work; 

“It must not be forgotten that three Luoghi Pii in particular receive an 
adequate number of virgins from the Company. These are: the enclosed area or 
conclave of the Major Hospital, where (in addition to the large infirmary ward 
and another room where illegitimate boys are brought up and nurtured with 
great care) a large number of young girls of illegitimate birth are brought up; 

2,1 Libro primo delli Consigli Generali, op. cit., f.46v. 

25 Cf. supra, Pt .II, Ch.III, b. 

26 GUERRINI, S. Angela, op. cit., tav.XlII; II volto storico di Brescia, Brescia, Edizione Comune di Bre- 
scia 1981, vol.IV, pp.147 and 157; stampe G XL1V6 e G XLIV7, p. 157; Roberto Lombardi, La 
visita apostolica di S. Carlo alia parrocchia di S. Lorenzo in Brescia, ediz. “Brixia Sacra” and “Memorie 
Bresciane”, Brescia 1981, plate included on p.49. 

27 Libro primo delli Consigli Generali, op. cit., ff.29v-30v and lOr; ASDM, Sez.X, Visita Pastorale di S. 
Carlo, Brescia 1580, vol.IX, “Hospitale Trinitatis et Caritatis incurabilium vulgo nuncu- 
patum”. [TN: It is to be understood that in the following pages “orphans” means “orphan-girls”]. 

28 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.170. 

29 Ibid., p.lll: “sin dall’origine loro le Orsoline in Brescia si occuparono, come fanno tuttora nel- 
I’insegnare alle fanciulle la dottrina cristiana, e anche per molto tempo dopo vi furono Orsoline nel 
Pio Luogo della Pieta per l’educazione delle povere orfanelle, e nell’Ospedal Maggiore per maestre 
delle esposte”. This passage, and the following one of Faino, help us to understand the meaning of 
Landini’s statement: “All the Brescian hospitals have been served by them up to the present; they 
are likewise in all the schools of Christian doctrine for girls ...”. (Landini, Estratto, op. cit., D15). 


the Pieta, where the little orphan-girls without father or mother are looked 
after; and the “Cittelle”, where are kept those young girls who, just on the 
threshold of adolescence, have been snatched from situations likely to compro- 
mise their honesty and are raised in great observance and virtue; [the virgins of 
the Company] help in the good running of these same luoghi pii, in which they 
live together, but in dependence on the Company; and, on feast-days, their 
churches resound inside with polyphonic and gregorian song, and even with 
music ...”. 30 

These documents prove, therefore, that the first Ursulines were entrusted 
with the work of education and assistance in these three “luoghi pii”, on behalf 
of the illegitimate girls, the orphans and the “citelle”, in other words, young 
adolescent girls brought together in a conservatory with a view to giving them 
the training they needed. 

As for Angela, we did not succeed in finding out anything, not the slight- 
est indication, not even a hint, of her presence, or of any action or any involve- 
ment in or on behalf of the “luoghi pii”. Of course, this in no way precludes the 
possibility that Angela could have occasionally paid a visit to someone in one of 
these places to bring the comfort of her word or to lend a helping hand in some 
case of emergency, but there are no documents, no evidence, no tradition which 
confirm this. 

c) Merician circle — Divino Amore — Incurabili 

It has been said that Angela was associated with the circle of those in- 
volved in the “luoghi pii” and in the Divino Amore. One of the arguments 
upon which this conjecture rests is the fact that she was supposed to have been 
on friendly terms with members of this society, as well as with persons engaged 
in the foundation or in the direction of charitable relief work . 31 But this line of 
argument needs to be re-examined and checked. 

The root of it, in our view, lies in the mistaken identification of a hospital’s 
“confratres” with the members of the pious confraternities which took the same 
name as the hospitals, and with the members of the religious congregations 
founded to assist the sick. The first were the members of the executive council 
of the hospital itself; the second supported the hospital spiritually and economic- 

,0 Faino, “Note varie per la biografia” in Miscellanea, op cit., f.l6r-v: “Non si deve tralasciare che in 
tre luoghi pii particolarmente, cioe: nel serraglio o conclave dell’Hospital Maggiore, dove (oltre 
alPappartamento grande dell’infermaria et un altro de gli figliuoli illegitimi che vi si nodriscono et 
allevano con cura grande) si allevano giovanette in gran numero di nascita illegitima; nella Pieta, 
dove si custodiscono le figliuole orfanelle senza padre et madre; et nelle Cittelle, dove si conservano 
quelle giovanette che, nello spuntare della loro adolescentia, si rapiscono dalle imminenti occasioni 
di precipitare la loro honesta et s’allevano in grande osservanza et virtu, si concede competente nu- 
mero di Vergini della Compagnia per il buon reggimento di detti luoghi, ne’i quali pure vivono col- 
legialmente, con dippendenza pero dalla Compagnia, et nelle feste officiano interiormente le loro 
chiese con canto figurato et gregoriano, et anco in musica...”. 

31 LEDOCHOWSKA, Angela, op. cit ., “The Beginnings of Angela’s Apostolate”, I, pp. 52-74. We will 
be giving other references from this chapter, without indicating each page-reference. 


ally, in exchange for the indulgences promised by the Sovereign Pontiff; it was 
only occasionally, and as a personal choice, that someone might be allowed to 
give some help. 

As for the last of these three categories, namely that of the religious con- 
gregations dedicated - through their institutional charisma - to the care and the 
assistance of the sick, these are of a relatively late date. And so, by superimpos- 
ing the figure of the brother infirmarian on to that of the “confratres” of the 
hospital and on to that of the members of the corresponding confraternities, one 
runs the risk of concluding that they all played an active and direct role in help- 
ing the sick. 

The Hospital for Incurables at Brescia, called after the Most Holy Trinity, 
had its own confraternity, endowed with indulgences from Clement VII . 32 

The Company of Divine Love at Brescia - authorised by the Pope, more- 
over, almost five years after the foundation of the Hospital 33 - is never men- 
tioned in the documents of this hospital or of any other Brescian hospital. Ci- 
stellini writes: “Working as constant collaborators beside Stella, recognised from 
the beginning as ‘ instaurator, defensor et massarius’ of the new hospital, are also the 
members of the Divino Amore including the canons Zanetti and Poncarali, Don 
Francesco Benaglia, Zanetti’s vicar at S. Zeno, Gerolamo Patengola and another 
hundred or so people more or less well known to historians. In the following 
years, the name of Jacopo Chizzola also appears among the councillors ”. 34 

This assertion must have played a part in leading T. Ledochowska astray, 
as it could be taken to mean that all Stella’s collaborators were members of the 
Divino Amore and that, therefore, the Hospital was not only a direct off-shoot 
of the confraternity, but that it belonged to it and was run and served by it. And 
since some of these “people more or less well known to historians” belonged to 
Angela’s circle, T. Ledochowska has concluded that: 

— “Though the links between Angela and the Company of Divino Amore are 
firmly established, it is not easy to define their exact nature”; 

— her services were highly appreciated”; 

— “The Company of St Ursula was inspired by that movement, even if not, 
at least at its inception, a parallel foundation for women”. 

We are deferring a careful examination of this last statement to the follow- 
ing chapters, in the course of which the features of the Company of St Ursula will 
clearly appear. 

We will just note here that the Company did not start as a movement, nor 
as a pious association, but as a state of consecrated life. It did not borrow its 

52 Cf. infra, d. 

55 Cf. supra, note 12. 

54 ClSTELLINI, Figure, op. cit., p.83: “Accanto alio Stella, riconosciuto fin da principio ‘instaurator, de- 
fensor et massarius' del nuovo ospedale, si trovano come assidui collaborator! i membri stessi del Db 
vino Amore, fra i quali i canonici Zanetti e Poncarali, D. Francesco Benaglia, vicario dello Zanetti a 
S. Zeno, Gerolamo Patengola e un altro centinaio di persone piu o meno note agli storici. Negli 
anni seguenti fra i consiglieri compare anche il nome di Jacopo Chizzola”. 


aims, its structures or its spirituality from the Divino Amore and so it cannot be 
considered as “a parallel foundation for women”. 

Teresa Ledochowska bases her conclusions on the presentation she makes 
of some of the personalities of the Merician circle, considered in their connec- 
tions with the movement of Divine Love or with the activities of the “luoghi 
pii”. We are going to look at these again, from the same angle, making a few 
rectifications. But let us say, from the outset, that we do not want to exclude a 
priori the possibility that some of them may have been members of the Divino 
Amore movement; we only want to add some precisions which we think need 
to be made. 

- Girolamo Patengola, presented as “the co-founder of the Brescian Hospital”, 
in reality was only one of the 125 “confratres”, councillors of the Hospital. 35 
The Annali della Carita would name him as the one who rented a house as a 
temporary lodging for the orphans collected together by Isabetta Prato. 36 But 
since his name does not appear in any other document connected with this 
“luogo pio”, his intervention could well have been linked to his role of special 
councillor of the Hospital for Incurables, which he was exercising during that 
particular year of 1532. Angela could have encouraged him to undertake some 
charitable work, but this does not mean, either on her part or on his, that there 
was necessarily a link with the Divino Amore. 

- Giacomo Chisgola was certainly a friend of Bartolomeo Stella. In the Biblioteca 
Civica of Bergamo we were able to see his report (undated) on the Acad- 
emy of Rezzato which he sent to Bartolomeo Stella, who had entered the serv- 
ice of Cardinal Reginald Pole 37 and had been away from Brescia about ten 
years. One cannot say that “he was one of the first collaborators of Bartolomeo 
Stella”, as he was nominated guardian at the Hospital for Incurables only on 3 
January 1535. We do not know when he had taken up his duties as “confrater” 
(from among the council of 125 “confratres” these duties were drawn by lot on 
a rota basis); but he was certainly not among the first members (we have already 
shown that he must not be mistaken for the Giovanni Chizzola on the first list 
of councillors). We are faced here with factors which are both too vague and 
too generalised to give reasonable backing to the view that Giacomo Chizzola 
was a member of the Divino Amore. 

— Tomaso Gavardo, for his part, was elected “massaro” of the Hospital for Incur- 
ables in 1538. He accompanied Chizzola when the latter visited Angela just be- 
fore she died. This is all we know about him. 

— Giacomo Bardinello. It is difficult to prove that “every known fact indicates that 
Bardinello, to some extent, collaborated with Angela at the luoghi pii”. It is true 
that he had spoken about her with Pandolfo Nassino, recalling her spirit of pen- 

35 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III, b. 

36 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III, g and note 84. 

37 Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica, Archivio Silvestri, Carte Stella, scatola 40, n.75. 


ance manifested by her fasts. 38 But if Bardinello and Angela had had anything 
in common regarding the “luoghi pii”, how can one explain his total silence 
about these links? On the other hand, Bardinello could have belonged to the Di- 
vino Amore as he had once, in fact, participated, with Nassino, at a meeting of 
“companions and friends” around Jerome Emiliani. 39 Nassino, however, in his 
necrologies for Bardinello and Angela, makes no reference to any activity of 
theirs, exercised together or individually, in the field of charitable work. He 
draws attention, instead, to something that had happened to him when, in spite 
of being disabled and crippled in 1536 (he does not say how), he had wanted to 
undertake the pilgrimage to Loreto with certain companions. During the out- 
ward journey, his hand had been miraculously healed; the effects of his other 
wounds had likewise disappeared, “although the bones did not all go back into 
place but remained dislocated”. “This Master Zoan Jacomo Bardinello was so 
devout and so honest that every upright person praised him in all things ... He 
was the companion of many gentlemen, and may God in his mercy receive 
his soul”. 40 

His necrology, in Nassino’s chronicle, comes on the page just opposite 

— Agostino Gallo. We cannot say that he was appointed “coadjutor to Bartolo- 
meo Stella in the government of the Hospital for Incurables”. He was elected 
Stella’s auditor, or as they used to say “massaro”, on 3 January 1535. 41 He ap- 
pears in the Hospital’s registers only after he had been in touch with Jerome 
Emiliani, founder of the Order of Somaschans. It must be remembered, though, 
that the minutes do not follow each other as regularly as they should in the 

- Bartolomeo Biancosi and Stefano Bertasgoli. Their names do not appear “in the 
registers of the Hospital for Incurables at Salo”; they were, in reality, members 
of the Confraternity of Charity, started in Salo in 1542, after some of the first 
Theatines of Cajetan of Thiene 42 had stayed there for a while. Both of them be- 
longed to the “primo colonello”. This Confraternity was not involved in work- 
ing with the incurables or in hospitals, but with seeing to the needs of the poor, 
to restoring peace in families or in the city, to persuading the dying to receive 

38 Nassino, Registro, op. at., f.574. 

39 Ibid., f.288. 

40 Ibid., ff.573v-574: “benche li ossi non fossero tutti nelli lochi soy ma fora de la persona”. “Era 
questo mastro Zoan Jacomo Bardinello tanto divoto et costumato, che tutti li Homini di bene in 
tutti lo laudavano... Fo compagno de molti gentilhomini, et Dio per sua bonta habia 1’anima sua”. 
Benvenuto Brunelli, Memorie (1514-15)0) published by Guf.RRINI, Cronache inedite, II, pp. 49-50, 
described an itinerary of the pilgrimage to Loreto, giving the mileage of each stage; the outward 
journey went by Brescia, Ferrara, Ravenna, Cesenatico, Rimini, Senigaglia, Ancona (258 miles), and 
the return journey by Forli, Imola, Bologna, Concordia, Mantua, Brescia (170 miles). 

41 I.ibro primo delli Consigli Generali, op. cit., f.20r: “Postremo pro solidanda et calculanda massaria re- 
v.di D. Bartholomei Stella massarii, electi fuere infrascripti duo cives videlicet: Annibal de Gastello, 
Augustinus Gallus”. 

42 ClSTELLINI, 1m “ Confraternita delta Carita" di Sato (1542), in “Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in 
Italia”, anno I, n.3, settembre-dicembre 1947, Istituto Grafico Tiberino, Roma, p.398. 


the sacraments, to putting an end to occasions of scandal and sin, and to secur- 
ing some good lawyer for anyone who needed it but could not afford to pay 
for one.' 13 

Isabetta Prato. We have already spoken about her collaboration with Laura 
Gambara as from 1532 probably, with references from the Annali della Carita 
and Faino’s text." 14 

There is some more evidence about a connection between these two 
women in the 1534 “polizza d’estimo”: 45 “Item I have received from Dame 
Laura de Gambara 25 scuti which are equivalent to 85 lire”. But the last evi- 
dence known to date is the mention of Laura Gambara and Isabetta Bargnani 
in the Bull of 1535, 46 which presupposes a petition sent from Brescia between 
1533 and the first months of 1535. 

Let it be noted, however, that the orphanage must have already ceased to 
be autonomous with regard to the shelter for penitent women (and so Isabetta 
Prato with regard to Laura Gambara) by November 1532, when the penitents 
and orphans were brought together “in the house of messer Marc’ Antonio 
Bombardiero which was situated above the piazza of the Duomo”. 47 

Neither Faino nor the Annali say when the transfer took place from here to 
the property bequeathed by Laura Gambara to the “Carita” in 1537. 48 Faino 
does not say anything either about when, once the “convento della Carita” had 
been established, Laura “decided to live there herself and to take charge of those 
souls ... the number of which increased in such a way that by 1533 there were 
seventy of them, among whom there were even some virgins who had taken 
refuge there to escape from the danger of becoming prostitutes ... Over all 
these, the Countess Laura carried out the office of superior, mother, guardian 
and governess”. 49 

It looks as if there was no further room for Isabetta Bargnani-Prato to con- 
tinue exercising any kind of management role with them. Everything points to 
the view that her work of collaboration did not extend beyond 1538. In the two 
years which followed, Angela would count her among the matrons to whom she 
entrusted her newly-founded Company. Angela could well have helped her with 
her advice during her apostolic activity. 

43 “Capitoli e membri della Congregazione di Carita di Salo (1542)”, ibid., pp.398-406. 

44 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III, g. 

45 PE, n.110 and n.231: “Item ho hauto dala signora Lavora da Gambara scuti 25 che buta lire 85”. 

46 Bull “Regimini” of 3 August 1535. Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III, g. 

47 Cf. supra, ibid. 

48 Ibid. 

49 FAINO, “Della Serva di Dio”, quoted in Brescia Bea/a, op. cit., f . 4 1 3 . Laura “personalmente vi si 
ridusse a vivere et governare quelle anime... Delle quali crebbe tanto il numero, che del 1533 si tro- 
varono sino a settanta, tra le quali v’erano pur anche alcune vergini, quivi ricorse per fuggire il 
pericolo di prostituir se stesse... Sopra tutte queste, faceva la contessa Laura l’officio di superiora, 
di madre, di custode e di governatrice”. 


d) The Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity 

On 27 April 1526, the Bull of Clement VII “Ulius qui pro dominici gregis 
salvatione” gave permission for the establishment of the “Confraternitas 
utriusque sexus Christifidelium sub invocatione Sanctissimae Trinitatis et 
Caritatis in Civitate Brixiensi”. 

In setting out the terms of the petition, the Pope mentions the fact that the 
Councillors and the Commune had accepted into the confraternity “quam pluri- 
mos utriusque sexus Christifideles similibus zelo et devotione accensos in Con- 
fratres... et in unum librum omnes describi et annotari fecerunt in quo quasi 
omnes cives Civitatis... et multi forenses descripti existunt quasi innumerabiles”. 

The Pope recalls that the election had been made of upright men called 
Councillors, chosen from among the most able “pro guberno et conservatione 
confraternitatis et piorum operum bonorum”, who had even drawn up the 
Statutes and fixed the duties. 

The Confratelli, at present, “incurabiles recepi, hospitari, curari, beni- 
gneque et caritative tractari facere coeperunt prout indies faciunt”; 50 they work 
in the Major Hospital, while seeing to the construction of their own hospital, so 
as to be able to alleviate the needs of the poor incurables. And for this building 
they have already paid out more than 1,500 ducats, and are ready to pay 15,000 
and even more. 

And so the Pope grants some spiritual benefits “rectoribus, gubernato- 
ribus, administratoribus, oeconomis, servitoribus, familiaribus, ministris, in- 
firmis et aliis personis in eis nunc et pro tempore existentibus et pro pauperibus 
ac infirmis curandis ac aliis miserabilibus personis gubernandis vel subveniendis 
pauperibus et infirmis inibi pro tempore degentibus”, while setting out the con- 
ditions necessary for acquiring the indulgences: confession at least once a year, 
with the intention of visiting the church and praying before the altar of the said 
hospital during Holy Week; and the payment of an annual subsidy “pro aedifi- 
catione, perfectione, reparatione, constructione, conservatione, manutentione et 
augmento hospitalis coepti Sanctissimae Trinitatis bonorum, illiusque ecclesiae 
et locorum pauperum ac aliorum inibi aedificandorum fabrica, necnon paupe- 
rum infirmorum et miserabilium personarum bonorum subventione, alimonia et 
rebus, ac extensis ad id faciendum manus porexerunt adiutrices, seu aliquam ele- 
mosinam pro eisdem piis operibus caritativis exercendis in capsa inibi pro ele- 
mosinis pro tempore deputata miserint, aut in capsa praedicta posuerint vel poni 
seu mitti fecerint; aut si infirmi, senes, valetudinarii, mulieres pregnantes, vel 
alias imbecilles, seu impediti fuerint, suas similes elemosinas per alium vel alios 
ad id miserint, et in dicta capsa reponi fecerint, plenariam omnium et singulo- 
rum suorum peccatorum indulgentiam et remissione ad instar Iubilei, per octo 
annos continuos proxime futuros a data praesentium computandos, consequan- 
tur qui vero, singulis diebus totius anni, in eadem capsa Hospitalis Sanctissimae 

50 From the context it is to be noted that the “petition” for this Bull had been sent after the General 
Council of Brescia had assigned a piece of land for the hospital which was to be erected. 


Trinitatis bonorum aliquam vel aliquas elemosinam vel elemosinas posuerint vel 
miserint, aut poni seu mitti fecerint; aut curam vel solicitudinem gubernationis 
regiminis, vel administrationis aut rerum vel servitii, seu negociorum Hospitalis 
Sanctissimae Trinitatis, vel illius ecclesiae aut fabricae aedificiorum, vel conser- 
vationis et augmenti praedictorum, gesserint aut eisdem pauperibus vel infirmis 
subvenerint, vel serviverint, omnes et singulas indulgentias et peccatorum re- 
missiones etiam plenarias perpetuo consequantur, quas consequerentur si Archi- 
hospitali Sancti Jacobi et Hospitali Campisancti praedictis eorumque ecclesiae 
elemosinas porrigerent...”. 51 

We wanted to reproduce this long passage because it enables us to under- 
stand the functions of the “Confratres” of the Most Holy Trinity. It set out for 
them many ways in which their zeal could find full scope, from tasks involved 
with government and administration to those connected with some form of serv- 
ice, including financing or contributing some modest sum, without excluding 
any kind of service and without laying down any specific or systematic task. 

The enthusiastic zeal of the early days, inevitably, would languish. On 28 
May 1536, “quia hominum negotia et minima charitas reddunt homines in bonis 
operibus frigidiores, et ad onera subeunda tardiores”, the quorum required for 
the validity of decisions had to be reduced from 125 to 40. 52 In 1548, as we have 
already said, the Hospital for Incurables ceased functioning as such, to become 
the Hospital for Women. 53 

51 Document i Fonda^ione Spedali Civifi, Diplomatico 2° cit. 

52 lJbro Primo delli Consigli Generali, op. cit., the minutes of 28 May 1536, f.20v. 
55 Cf. supra, note 21. 


Chapter VI 


The last ten years of Angela Merici’s life opened with a noteworthy 
occurrence, a transfer of short duration from Brescia to Cremona. This 
move would bring Angela into contact with the court of Francesco 
Sforza II, which was already established there. But the principal event 
was the setting up of the Company of St Ursula a few years before her 
death, an event which marked the summit of Angela’s apostolic action, 
which put the seal on the call God had made her aware of when she was 
young. We will deal with this in the next chapter. Here we will try and 
follow Angela in her last moves and in her last illness up to her death, 
enriching what is traditionally known about these with the help of some 
new documents, one of which, in particular, unknown up to now, is of 
capital importance. 


After the Peace of Cambrai, on 3 August 1529, which put an end to 
three years of hostility between Francis I and Charles V, the Emperor 
came to Italy to assert his authority and to receive the imperial crown 
from the hands of Clement VII. After a stop at Genoa, where Andrea 
Doria had laid the foundation of a pro-Spanish policy by inflicting an ir- 
reparable blow on the French, Charles V, then at the pinnacle of his pow- 
er, made arrangements to reach Bologna, passing through Piacenza. 
And so, relates Gallo, 1 “the Emperor Charles V had come to Piacenza to 
be crowned, which was done, and it was feared that he would lay siege 
to Brescia seeing that he was the enemy of our most illustrious Signori”. 

Agostino Gallo, his wife Cecilia and his sister Ippolita, fearing the 
danger, had taken shelter at Cremona and had offered hospitality to An- 
gela. Girolamo Patengola also formed part of the group of refugees. 

1 Processo Na^ari, D16. 

The journey probably took place at the end of September, because 
the Emperor had reached Piacenza on the 22nd of that month. It was in 
the course of that journey that Gallo had the opportunity of discovering 
his guest’s human gifts of tact and of “piacevolezza”, so much so that he 
confessed: “I was forever captivated by her”. His sister was already on 
friendly terms with Angela, going back even to the time of her marriage, 
but after she had been left a widow, she had become even more attached 
to her. 

In their residence, near San Vittore, Gallo had seen all kinds of visi- 
tors come crowding in “from morning until evening”, and not only or- 
dinary folk, but also members of the court of Francesco Maria Sforza, 
nobles from Milan and from Cremona, all fascinated by Angela’s word 
and led to conversion by her. Gallo remembered some of those who had 
been converted, some of whom were already dead by the time of the 
“Processo Nazari”, but there were others still alive, in Milan as well as in 
Cremona, and they had persevered in the new way of life which they had 
undertaken under Angela’s guidance. In the circumstances she could 
well have renewed her acquaintance with the Duke, who had entrusted 
himself and his Duchy to her prayers. 

On 24 February 1530, Charles V was crowned in San Petronio of 
Bologna; Francesco Sforza had his title to the Duchy of Milan recon- 
firmed (not without paying a very large ransom); the Gonzagas had their 
ducal title recognised; Cervia and Ravenna were restored to the Pope. 
All these events helped to defuse certain pockets of tension and to usher 
in a period of peace, thanks to which the refugees were able to return 

In the meantime, however, something had happened which had 
given Angela’s hosts new cause for concern: she had fallen seriously ill. 
This decline in her physical strength could have been due in some way to 
the intensity of her prayers and penances, which she had certainly 
increased at that time in order to obtain peace for the princes and the 
Christian people. 

The illness must have got worse and appeared to be hopeless; the 
end seemed so imminent that Girolamo Patengola composed the follow- 
ing lines as an epitaph to be inscribed on her tomb: 

“Here lies buried one who in name. 

In deed and in word, was an Angel. 

She lived a virginal life in a silent cell, 

Enjoying there true interior peace. 

The beloved and obedient handmaid of God, 

She spurned all that was pleasing to the senses. 


And now, in heavenly bliss, with a crown of palms, 

She lives in happiness among the Angels”. 2 

The episode that followed throws light on one aspect of Girolamo’s 
personality, namely a certain naivety, a “Fioretti” innocence. Angela’s 
young friend and follower had read these lines to the dying “Madre”, al- 
most as his “good-bye” to her as she approached the threshold of eter- 
nity. But the incident also throws into relief an aspect of Angela’s tem- 
perament, namely a certain immediate reaction, a lively emotion which 
expressed itself in a quick and energetic gesture. Gallo relates: “... and 
suddenly she sat up, and thinking that this would truly be the case, she 
spoke so passionately for at least half an hour about the joys of that 
heavenly kingdom, that her face remained lit up as if she had been a 
cherub”. 3 This scene is described by an eye-witness, and one senses that 
he evokes it as if reliving it. 

In the room full of visitors, Angela, at the prospect of the beatitude 
awaiting her, and with a foretaste of the joy of possessing it, recovered 
her physical strength. Then, realising that she had been cured, she burst 
into tears and blamed Girolamo as if he had wanted to deceive her. This 
emotional behaviour, typically Mediterranean, recalls other acts, appar- 
ently unpremeditated, but which reveal quickness and clearness of deci- 
sion: Angela washing her hair with a mixture of ashes and bleach; An- 
gela throwing a handful of sand on the salad of flowers; Angela without 
hesitation repulsing the devil enveloped in light; Angela abandoning 
Venice on the very day she was invited to remain, afraid that she would 
be forced to stay on there. 

Gallo does not fail to mention how medicines had an unusual effect 
on her, and how the most efficacious ones for her health were leeks and 
onions. In the circumstances, however, this recovery must have greatly 
astonished those present and certainly added to Angela’s reputation for 

We know nothing more definite about this illness or about how 
long it lasted. We do not even know the length of the stay at Cremona. 
We only know that, on their return to Brescia, Agostino Gallo offered 
Angela hospitality in his own house in the San Clemente district, where 
he had prepared two rooms specially for her. Afterwards Angela moved, 
first near to San Barnaba before settling in a house belonging to the 
Canons Regular of the Lateran, next to St Afra and near the public 
fountain. It can be assumed that she was already living there in 1532, as 

2 Ibid. 

5 Ibid. 


it was in that year that she expressly asked to be buried in that church 
after her death. 4 

In August 1532, Angela took up her pilgrim’s staff once again and 
set out for Varallo a second time. As we have already said, Agostino 
Gallo and his sister Ippolita accompanied her. His wife’s absence is ex- 
plained by the fact that on 10 July their first baby, Eugenia Isidora Jo- 
sepha, had been baptised at San Clemente. 5 According to Faino, the first 
virgins of the Company were also in the party. 6 As for Gallo, he says 
nothing at all about this, and we will come back to the subject in the 
next chapter. On her return to Brescia, Angela courageously set about 
founding the Company of St Ursulk. 


They certainly go back to a much earlier period. The message re- 
ceived during the vision at Brudazzo must have sounded very obscure to 
Angela’s mind, at least with regard to the time and the manner of put- 
ting it into effect. No-one, however, has ever doubted its premonitory 
significance. Landini 7 had gathered the memory of it from the lips of the 
first followers of the “Madre”; Cozzano 8 refers more than once to God’s 
explicit order; Bellintani 9 makes a clear reference to it, and all the oral 
tradition, all the iconographic tradition flowing from it, are a confirma- 
tion of this premonition. 

As a young woman consecrated to God but living in the world, 
Angela had lived in a very unsettled period because of the dangers aris- 
ing from the political and social situation, a period eroded by laxity and 
heresy, and yet alive with a new ferment and generous impulses. Her 
past experience must have made her ever more aware of the position of 
women, ever more anxious to intervene, with the strength of the Spirit 
who was guiding her. 

The poor had knocked on her door, also the learned and the noble, 
bringing with them the sorrows of their daily life, the rare joys that came 
their way, the problems that worried families faced with their children’s 

4 Cf. infra, 2. 

5 GIOVAN Maria Mazzuchelli, Notice intorno alia Vita, op. cit., note on f.22. 

6 About this particular fact, cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.VII, 3.b. 

7 D15. 

8 D22, D23, D24. 

9 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[llr-v]. 


Angela was aware of the frequent conflict between the custom that 
wanted a daughter behind a grille or married, and the hidden longings 
for a fully consecrated life outside the cloister, which many of the young 
women who approached her carried in their heart. The Third Order 
of St Francis, to which Angela belonged, did not in itself involve a life- 
long commitment to virginity, and so did not offer any guarantee against 
possible pressure from parents and suitors to marry. In addition, she 
must have found the means of reciprocal support which it provided 
insufficient to safeguard the perseverance of those young girls and 
women who were placed sometimes in a servile position with employers, 
who were not always respectful of their good resolutions. An adequate 
structure was lacking, with a juridical value of its own, its own statutes 
and its own rights. 

And so, from a primordial intuition and as a result of the confi- 
dences Angela received, a programme of life emerged and gradually 
took shape, which would be codified in the Rule and would take on 
flesh in the “Company of St Ursula”. 

At this point - probably the beginning of 1532 — Angela took a pos- 
itive step which, while certainly no’t intended as a break with the Third 
Order of St Francis, nevertheless signalled a certain separation. 

1532 is the date, in fact, of the transcription which we discovered in 
the ASV, of a petition 10 in which “Angela from Salo”, Franciscan terti- 
ary of the diocese of Brescia, asked the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary to 
be dispensed from the prescription regarding her burial in a Franciscan 
church, preferring the church of St Afra “ob devotionem suam erga 
Ecclesiam Sanctorum Faustini et Iovite alias Sancte Aphre Brixien”. She 
added, however, “in dicta aut quavis alia Ecclesia prout forsan tunc sua 
devotio expostulaverit...”, thus indicating an alternative connected, no 
doubt, with another of her devotions. Did Angela hope one day to re- 
pose in a church of the Company? We do not know. 

The “Apostolic Letter” of the Grand Penitentiary, Cardinal Anto- 
nio Pucci, dated 2 November 1532, granted Angela her request. 11 This 
letter is lost. We know about it from Lombardi, who had seen it in the 
Archives of the Company of St Ursula at Brescia, and had copied and 
published it in the Vita della B. Angela which he wrote, 12 using a punc- 
tuation which is not usually found in documents of this type, and giving 
it the title “Bulla Apostolica pro Sur Angela, quod possit sepeliri in 

10 ASV, Diversa Sacrae Penitentiariae Clementis P.P. VII, anno IX, 1532, Reg.79. f.s.n. D8. 

11 D9. 

12 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.133 note. 


Ecclesia S. Afre”. The document, however, is neither a Bull nor a Brief, 
but a Letter of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary. 

In drawing up this petition, Angela was not renouncing her mem- 
bership of the Third Order; the Rule, moreover, made it impossible for 
her to do so: “Ordinamus praeterea statuentes, ut nullus post ipsius Fra- 
ternitatis ingressum de eadem egredi valeat ad saeculum reversurus: pos- 
sit tamen transitum habere liberum ad Religionem aliam approbatam”. 13 
She would continue being called Sur Angela, she would wear the Fran- 
ciscan habit up to her death, and she would be buried in it. But at the 
same time she would assume a position somewhat distant from the Fran- 
ciscans with regard to herself, and even more so with regard to her 
daughters, for the sake of this new form of consecrated life which she 
was going to establish in the world and for which she would very soon 
obtain approval from the competent authority, in other words, from the 
episcopal authority. 

For the time being, Angela confined herself to forming the future 
members of the Company by gathering small groups of them round her, 
in the little room next to St Afra where conditions were probably far 
from favourable. This is where Isabetta Prato intervened, by putting at 
the disposal of the nascent Company a large room in her house in the 
Cathedral square, as we have already mentioned in the pages devoted to 
her. It is not clear who had had the frescoes painted in this room or who 
had painted them. Bernardino Faino 14 has left quite a detailed descrip- 
tion of these paintings, which he had still been able to see in the 17th 
century, but by then they had alrqady been restored. This fact must not 
be underrated, as it lessens the value of the description handed down 
by Faino. 

The main themes of these mural paintings were dear to Angela, and 
taken together they had a definite didactic purpose, with the virgins of 
the Company in mind: in a central position, serving as an altar-piece, 
there was the picture of Christ crucified, surrounded by hosts of weeping 
angels; then came the scenes of the Annunciation, the Nativity, Jesus in 
the Temple, the Assumption of Mary. There were in addition the saints: 
Faustinus, Jovita and Afra, patrons of the city and of the church near 
which Angela was living; Paula and Eustochium on a ship at the mercy 
of the fury of the sea, a memory perhaps of the pilgrimage to the Holy 
Land and of the dangers of the return journey; St Ursula on a ship. 

13 Nicholas IV, Bull “Supra montem”, Ch.II, p.94. 

14 Faino, “Descrittione dell’Oratorio, nel quale la Beata Madre Angela diede principio alia sua 
Compagnia di S. Orsola”, in Miscellanea , BQ, ms.K.VI.l, ff.35r-37r [102r-104r]. 


carrying the standard of virginity and of martrydom; St Elizabeth of 
Hungary, in one panel helping some virgins who were unwinding the 
distaff and spinning, and in a second panel serving eight virgins at table. 
Faino writes: “It is likely that the Blessed Angela had this picture done 
... out of the devotion she had for St Elizabeth, who was wearing the 
same habit as herself and had made the same profession, and also out of 
the devotion that the said Dame Hisabetta Prata had for the Saint whose 
name she carried ...”. 15 

St Elizabeth of Hungary was not portrayed, however, among the 
poor and the infirm, as one would have expected from the history of her 
life and the legends which had sprung up round her. This painting of her 
surrounded by young girls could have been in recognition of Isabetta 
Prato’s work with the little orphan-girls of the “Carita” during those 

Among all the pictures there, one would have also expected to see 
one of St Catherine of Alexandria (“St Catherine of the Wheel”, as she 
used to be called in the region), who was one of the saints most fre- 
quently represented at the time of the Renaissance, and whose name far 
exceeded any other as a Christian name for girls. But such a picture was 
missing. We put forward a suggestion for this absence: in Faino’s time, 
one of the pictures was so damaged (“del tutto guasto”) that he could 
not even decipher what it was supposed to be. Would this, perhaps, have 
been the picture dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria? 

One of the frescoes, still according to Faino, carried the date “Die 
II Decembris MDXXXIII”, which we read as the “second” day of De- 
cember and not the “eleventh” as understood by Doneda. 16 

One feature mentioned by Faino is clearly anachronistic, namely the 
way the women in the paintings were dressed. Afra, Paula and Eusto- 
chium, and the virgins served by Elizabeth, were all wearing “the black 
habit of the Ursulines, but without the cincture”. One point must be 
made clear. When Faino visited the oratory and described it, it had al- 
ready been restored at the expense of the notary Giambattista Bianchi. 
The latter had become owner of it at the time of his marriage to the 
young Isabella, daughter of Andrea Malgarotti (a wealthy cattle-owner 
who came from Sonico di Valtrompia), and had settled there in 1621. 17 

Giambattista had immediately taken steps to get the house and the 

15 Ibid., “E credibile che la Beata Angela ordinasse questo quadro... per la divotione che haveva a 
Santa Elisabetta, del cui habito et professione ella stessa era, et per la divotione che le haveva ancora 
la sudetta signora Hisabetta Prata per tenere il nome di essa stessa Santa...”. 

16 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.71. 

17 GUERRINI, Cronache bresciane inedite, vol.IV, Brescia 1931, premessa ai Diari dei Bianchi, pp. 41-42. 


oratory restored, and had entrusted the work to the painter Bernardino 
Gandino. He wrote in his Diario, in fact, on 22 May: “Sig. Bernardino 
Gandino has finished painting my room with landscape scenes; the 
kitchen garden and pergola are also finished and painting has begun 
on the chapel; it is being renovated and restored with many improve- 
ments We do not know what criteria the painter followed in carry- 
ing out this commission and even more in restoring the pictures “with 
many improvements”, but it seems right to cast some doubt on the sub- 
ject, precisely on account of this “black habit of the Ursulines” seen by 

Angela’s Rule, in fact, had prescribed neither black nor the same 
colour, nor the same kind of dress for everyone. It was the revised Rule 
of Cardinal Borromeo that had imposed the black habit, the shawl of 
linen material which covered the shoulders and front, the black shoes, 
as well as the long leather cincture. 19 By Faino’s time, the habit had been 
fixed down to every detail, just like a uniform which he describes in 
some notes, addressed to some unknown person and entitled: “Response 
to some points proposed in the letters”: 20 black habit, shawl (called ei- 
ther “pectoral” or “humeral”) with the points behind and in front reach- 
ing the waist and pleated like a priest’s rochet, “however, much simpler 
and quite plain”; simple bonnet of white material covered by a white 
veil; black leather cincture about an inch wide, without a buckle, hang- 
ing down to the hem of the dress; white, yellow or orange stockings, 
black shoes. It was to all extent and purpose a religious dress. 

Did the restorer of the chapel, influenced by the uniform dress 
which the Ursulines of Brescia were wearing, change the original colours 
to black? We do not know the answer to this, but one thing is certain: 
the paintings described by the superior of the Company are not the ones 
which the first virgins of St Ursula had seen. 

The fact that the saints and the virgins were shown not wearing the 
cincture, as was the case with the members of the Company at the time 
of Angela, might have led Faino to believe, on the other hand, that the 
pictures had simply been touched up. 

18 Gio. Battista Bianchi, Diario, in Guerrini, Cronache, op. cit., vol.IV, p.142: “Fu compito di di- 
pingere la mia camera, fattovi i paesi dal Sig. Bernardino Gandino, et fu finito d’accomodar l’horto 
et lobia... et s’incomincia a dipingere la ghiesola et a rinnovarla et risarcirla con molti mi- 

19 R egola della Compagnia di S. Orsola di Brescia di nuovo revista, corretta et confirmata da Mons. 
111. mo Carlo Cardinale di S. Prassede..., Brescia, appresso Pietro Maria Marchetti, 1582, cap.2, p. 11. 

20 Faino, Miscellanea, op. cit., “Note varie per la biografia”, ff.9r-18v [146r-155v]; cf. also Vita, 
op. cit., pp. 68-72. 


On 19 June 1621, a Saturday, continues the chronicle of Giovan 
Battista Bianchi, “thanks to my diligence, the restoration work in the 
oratory was completed and the following inscription was set up there to 
recall that here the Blessed Angela Merici of Desenzano, whose body is 
still lying intact in the crypt of St Afra, used to pray often and almost 
continuously, and that here she instituted her order of the ‘Demesse’ by 
assembling them together under her government in this place; this room 
was levelled down and almost destroyed by some ignorant people who 
turned it into a kind of kitchen: 

‘Beata Angela Merica 

Brixianarum virginum speculum immaculatum 
hie primum 

sacras virgines seculares 
divino instinctu sapientissime instituit 
propriaeque virtutis fulgentissimis radiis illustravit 
hie sepissime commorando. 

Coruerant penitus iniuria temporum et hominum 
hae sacrae parvulae aediculae. 

Joannens Baptista Blancus 
tanto numini devinctissimus 
aere proprio perenni cultu 
restauravit’ ”. 21 

In his “Descrittione dell’oratorio”, from which we have taken the 
themes of the pictures, 22 Faino gives a very rough version of this inscrip- 
tion, making it shorter without saying that he has made an extract from 
it. As for Doneda, he keeps closer to the text in Bianchi’s Diario, but 
without following it word for word. 23 It must be noted, though, that by 
his time there was nothing left of this time-honoured place and we do 
not know the source of his version of the epigraph. In 1732, in fact, the 
last fresco, the one that was serving as an altar-piece, had been painted 
over in whitewash. Visiting the former oratory in 1765, Carlo Doneda 
noticed that the whitewash was flaking off easily just where the cruci- 
fixion was, revealing underneath the picture painted in oil. 24 

21 Diari bianchi, op. cit., pp. 144-145: “fu compito di restaurare l’oratorio nostro per mia industria, 
ponendovi I’inscrittione seguente per memoria che ivi la B. Angela Merici da Desenzano, il cui 
corpo intiero riposa ancora in S. Afra nella chiesa sotterranea, faceva spessissime et quasi continua- 
mente oratione, et che ivi institui il suo ordine delle Demesse, radunandovele a’ suoi ordini; qual 
loco era spianato et quasi distrutto per l’ignoranza di gente che vi facevano quasi la cosina”. The 
date MDCXXI given by Faino is missing here. 

22 FAINO, Miscellanea , “Note varie”, op. cit., f.36r [103r]. 

23 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.145. 

24 Ibid., p.145. 



Angela’s last years were spent largely either in the oratory by the 
Cathedral square or in the rooms at St Afra, where she had installed 
herself. 25 But it was in the oratory that Angela used to assemble together 
the young women and even some middle-aged unmarried women who 
aspired to enter the Company of St Ursula. She also used to meet some 
widows of noble birth there, some of whom were very young, getting 
them interested in her foundation project and preparing them for posi- 
tions of responsibility in the Company. 

a) At St Afra 

Bellintani relates how, in order to construct the fortifications of the 
city and to enlarge the outer walls, it had been necessary to demolish the 
convent of Santo Salvatore. The Canons Regular of the Lateran who 
used to inhabit it, had received the church of St Afra in exchange. 
They had had the old building razed to the ground and had constructed 
a new one, with a large chapel dedicated to the relics of the martyrs in 
the crypt. 26 The Canons of the Lateran were held in high esteem in Bre- 
scian ecclesiastical circles, and Angela had chosen her own confessor, 
Father Serafino of Bologna 27 from among their number, as stated by 
Faino. 28 

At St Afra, Angela had a woman companion, according to the 
testimony of Doneda who had gathered this information from the books 
of the Company of St Ursula: "... a good maiden, by the name of Bar- 
bara Fontana, who survived her, although only for a short time, and 
who would have been able, as a faithful witness, to provide some details 
about Angela’s life after her death”. 29 It was perhaps as a result of her 
evidence that Landini had been able to write: “During the time of prayer, 

25 A cadastral search still needs to be made on the exact location of the “casetta di S. Angela” next 
to St Afra. 

26 Bellintani, Vita, op. tit., BQ, ms. B. VI. 30, f.[15v]; Monumenta, p.93. 

27 Gabriele Pennotto ex Congregatione Lateranense: Centralis Totius Sacri Ordinis Clericorum Ca- 
nonicorum Historia Tripartita , Romae, ex Typographia Camerae Apostolicae. 1624. Pars III. p.794: 
“Seraphinus Bononiensis, optimae vitae sacerdos et erga Sacratissimam Virginem Deiparam peculia- 
riter devotus, scripsit illius vitam ex sacris Evangeliis et aliis probatis auctoribus, cui praemisit titu- 
lum: Paradisus Delitiarium spiritualium, multis documentis spiritualibus exornatam; editus est liber 
Bononiae anno 1562”. Quoted in I.EDOCHOWSKA, Angela, op. tit., I, p.81. 

28 Faino, Miscellanea, “Copiate le seguenti memorie dal Registro Rosso della Compagnia di Sant’Or- 
sola”, f . [ 1 66] . 

29 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.53 and p.142; “una buona vergine di nome Barbara Fontana, la quale a 
lei sopravisse, quantunque per breve tempo, e avra potuto come testimonio fedele riferire dopo la di 
lei morte almeno qualche particolarita della sua vita”. 


her body was seen lifted in the air”. 30 

We found no mention of this Barbara Fontana in any document of 
that period. Cozzano mentions a Barbara among Angela’s first followers, 
but he does not give the surname. 31 

We discovered, though, among the witnesses to the chapter of An- 
gela’s election, a Giovan Pietro Fontana, shoemaker, who was living in 
the district of St Afra. 32 Angela must have thought highly of him, be- 
cause on the front page of the Office book that had belonged to her one 
could read these words: “Office of the venerable Madre Sur Angela 
which is mine since her death, because she had promised it to me, Zan 
Piero Fontana”. 33 He was probably Barbara’s father, if Angela had prom- 
ised him her Office book. 

The presence of a companion living with Angela is also confirmed 
by Bellintani, 34 Gondi, 35 Faino 36 and by Doneda 37 in connection with the 
visit that Angela had received from her nephew Tracagni of Salo and 
with another one from a canon of S. Nazaro, a relative of hers. In both 
cases Angela had announced to her companion the identity of the visitor 
before she had seen him. These two incidents were repeated several 
times in the course of the processes. 

This “living together” was also in the spirit of the Rule which An- 
gela had proposed to her daughters; as far as possible they were not to 
be left alone in life, especially when they were getting old or were in pre- 
carious health. 

We do not know if the first admission of the twenty-eight virgins 
who entered the Company on 25 November 1535 took place at St Afra 
or in the oratory of Isabetta Prato, since we do not possess any doc- 
ument that gives this information. We do know, though, where the first 
chapter of the Company was held, namely that of 18 March 1537, for the 
election of the legal representative and mother general in the person of 
the “Madre Sur Angela”. The notarial act states it clearly: “in coquina 
domus habitationis D. Sur Angele... site in contrata Sancte Afre et iuris 
Sancte Afre Brixie”. 

This was the most solemn of the assemblies held during Angela’s 
lifetime. Afterwards the Company would follow an untroubled rhythm 

30 D15. 

51 D24, [f.974r], 

32 D6. 

33 APC, Vat. 340, f.705v, DIO. 

34 Bf.LLINTANI, Vita, op. cit., Monumenta , pp.87-88. 

33 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp.26-27. 

36 Faino, Vita, op. cit., pp. 39-40. 

37 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.68. 


of life until the death of the “Madre”, with an ever-increasing number of 
recruits. In a short time, as Nazari states in the Vita , the number of 
members would reach one hundred and fifty. 

b) The death 

The Foundress’ strength declined. Between 1539 and 1540 38 she fell 
ill, and Giacomo Chizzola 39 went to visit her, taking with him a friend, 
Tomaso Gavardo, who came from a rich, noble family. 40 Angela must 
have known him, if only because Tomaso had in his house a maid- 
servant called Margarita di Sopraponte, a member of the Company of 
St Ursula. 

Recalling this visit, Chizzola relates that Angela had talked to him 
about how to live a Christian life. Just before leaving, Tomaso Gavardo 
had begged her to give him some spiritual advice and she had said to 
him: “Do during life what you would like to have done at the time of 
death”. 41 

It was about this period that Angela dictated to Cozzano her spir- 
itual Testament addressed to the matrons or lady-governors of the Com- 
pany, and her Counsels addressed to the local superiors or “colonelle”. 
With an eye to the future and with a really prophetic intuition, Angela 
had a presentiment of the storms which would shake the Company; she 
foresaw the risk of division and made her final appeal for unity, for per- 
severance, and for fidelity to the Church and to the institution; she found 
words that were both inspired and profoundly human to exhort the 
superiors to love their spiritual daughters and to devote themselves to 
their work of forming, governing and giving them spiritual guidance. In 
this way she entrusted her very last message to the Counsels and to the 

Angela had been taken seriously ill during her stay at Cremona, but 
for the rest of her life there is no mention of any serious illness. How- 
ever, she must have suffered from some physical weakness since she had 
had to have recourse to doctors. It is Agostino Gallo who tells us how 

sa Ibid . , p.81 and p.152. 

39 D16. 

40 PE, n.65, 1534. His father Stefano was dead. In 1534, Tomaso lived with his mother Caterina; 
his sister-in-law Antonia also lived in the same house with her four children. Living in the house 
likewise was the priest Hector de Palazzolo, “employed as a tutor and to say mass for Dame 
Caterina”, as well as two house-servants and three maid-servants. 

41 D16. 


disconcerted they were when they applied the usual remedies and discov- 
ered that she reacted to the medicines with unexpected results. 42 From 
this testimony one could gather that she suffered from ailments quite fre- 
quently, but we do not know anything more definite about them to 
make any kind of diagnosis, not even about her last illness. 

In their writings, Bellintani, Gondi and Faino all said that, antici- 
pating the end, Angela had wanted to wash herself so that no-one would 
have to do it after her death, and they had seized the opportunity to ex- 
tol her “virginal modesty”. 43 Doneda thinks this particular detail is 
highly unlikely as it implies that, in spite of being seriously ill, the “Ma- 
dre” had been left alone in the house. And Doneda adds that even if she 
had been surprised by her nephew while she was washing her hair (this 
was one of the remedies which used to afford her some relief), this did 
not mean that she had taken a bath in order to avoid being washed after 
death. 44 

Both Bellintani and Gondi made another mistake when they said 
that the news of Angela’s illness had been given out by the preacher dur- 
ing the homily in the Cathedral on Good Friday, which that particular 
year fell on 26 March; at the same time Bellintani made Angela die on 
the 16th and Gondi on the 21st of that month, but she had died, in fact, 
on 27 January 1540. 

The first to be mistaken about Angela’s death had been Agostino 
Gallo, who at the “Processo Nazari” had declared that it had taken place 
on 12 March 1540. Nazari and Bellintani followed him, while Gondi 
(and it could have been a printing error) wrote 21 March. 45 This is the 
date which was taken by later biographers in France, Germany, Flanders 
and Spain, until Faino re-established the correct date. The mistake per- 
sisted, however, even after 1672 with those authors who did not know 
Faino, and led to commemorative ceremonies and devotional practices 
being fixed to that date. 

Lombardi provides a comprehensive collection of all the different 
versions about the day of Angela’s death. 46 

As for Doneda, he cites the documents which give irrefutable proof 
that the death occurred on 27 January 1540: 

42 Ibid. 

45 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., Monumenta , p.92; Gondi, Vita, op. cit., pp. 57-58; Faino, Vita, op. cit., 

44 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.82-83 and pp. 153-154. 

45 DONEDA also believes that it is a question of the numbers being inverted, due to a printing error. 
Cf. Vita, op. cit., p.155. 

46 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.126-131. 


- the R egistro of Pandolfo Nassino, who devotes a page to the necrology 
“de Sur Anzola di Merichi” and leaves another page blank, perhaps with 
the intention, not carried out, of adding some further information; 47 

- the Office of Our Lady which Angela used; on the first page was writ- 
ten: “On the 27th day of January 1540, at 21 and a half hours on this 
Tuesday, Madre Sor Angiela passed away”; 48 

- the small book in which the names of the first virgins of the Company 
had been inscribed, and which had on the frontispiece: “Madre Sur An- 
zola left this life on the 27th day of January 1540”; 49 

- the Secondo Libro Generate which says on page 40: “The Reverend and 
blessed Suor Angela, who instituted this Company in the month of No- 
vember 1535, died on 27 January 1540”; 49b,s 

- the Libro de la Compagnia de Santa Ursula de le defunte de la Compagnia 
verzene (those who have died) which has the note: “Madre sore Anzola 
died on 27 January of the year 1540, her death she had foretold ... died 
our Madre sore Anzola and she had predicted her death”. 50 

We think one further document could be added to this list: 

- the will of Ginevra Luzzago, a parchment copy of which we found in 
the State Archives of Milan; it was among the papers which came from 
the monastery of St Afra. 51 

The will, published by the notary Girolamo Zanetti on 18 Septem- 
ber 1558 at the request of the testatrix, had been dictated in front of 
seven witnesses by Ginevra, “sana mente et intellectu, licet corpore lan- 
guens, volens de bonis suis disponere ne inter posteros suos lis oriatur”. 

“Inprimis animam suam omnipotenti Deo et beatissimae Virgini 
Mariae ac toti curiae caelesti humiliter comendavit, item legavit, et voluit 
corpus suum sepelliri in ecclesia Sanctae Affrae civitatis Brixiae”. And 
Ginevra had left to this same church a legacy of 306 lire planete for a def- 
inite purpose: the canons were to arrange for a priest always to be avail- 
able there to read the Rule to the members of the Company, to adminis- 
ter the sacraments and to celebrate every year “unam missam solemnem 
cum divinis officiis in ecclesia praedicta, et quolibet die vigesimo sep- 

47 Donrda, Vita, op. cit ., pp. 156-157; Nassino, R egistro, op. at., pp.574-575; D7. 

48 Cf. also D10. 

49 Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.I, Appendix Note. “La Madre Sur Anzola paso da questa Vita a di 27 Zenar 

49b “La Rda et beata Suor Angela, la quale instituite la detta Compagnia del mese di Novembre 
1535. Et morse alii 27 Zenaro 1540”. 

50 Ibid. “La Madre sore Anzola morite a di 27 di Zenaro del 40, de la sua morte lei predise la morte 
sua... morite la nostra Madre sore Anzola et la predise la sua morte”. 

51 ASM, Fondo di Religione registro n.223 Brescia S. Affra alias S Salvatore (Lateranensi), pp.66v- 
67r; and Inventario Registri n.56; D32. 


timo januarii perpetuis temporibus in remedium animae ipsius magnifi- 
cae dominae testatricis, sub poena privationis praesentis legati...”. The 
other wishes of the sick woman follow, but we only want to draw atten- 
tion to this one: Ginevra Luzzago does not ask for mass and divine of- 
fice to be said on the anniversary day of her own death, as is the custom, 
but on 27 January. She does not give any reason for her choice, but it is 
clear that it is a homage paid to the friendship and the devotion she had 
for the “Madre”. 

Among the witnesses required by custom for this nuncupative will 
there was a doctor, Girolamo Gardone, who perhaps was attending 
Dame Ginevra. Angela also is said to have been attended by Doctor Gar- 
done, and it is Gondi who gives us this particular information. 52 This 
confirms our hypothesis that it was from Alessandro Luzzago that 
Gondi had learnt about certain events which had remained fixed in the 
family’s memory. 53 

Angela died on Tuesday, 27 January 1540, at “21 and a half hours”, 
in other words, given the season, about half past three in the afternoon. 
Clothed in her tertiary habit and cape, her face enclosed in a wimple and 
a white veil, she was carried to the church of St Afra the following 
day at 16 hours, that is ten o’clock in the morning. Pandolfo Nassino 
wrote her obituary notice, 54 and biographers refer to him when they are 
trying to fix the date of Angela’s birth, basing it on his information that 
“she was about 65-70 years old”. In spite of the inaccuracy in the father’s 
name (Tomaso instead of Giovanni), Nassino’s page has the undisputed 
value of an eye-witness testimony. 

For three consecutive nights a brilliant star shone above St Afra; 
this is a fact over which the biographers are in general agreement. 

c) The burial 

“She was left in this said church of St Afra for some days, and in 
no part of her body was there any decomposition; she was afterwards 
buried with great honour in a tomb or sepulchre in this church, and this 
tomb or sepulchre ...”. So reads the last part of Nassino’s obituary which 
remained unfinished, for some unknown reason, especially as the words 
“or sepulchre” are at the top of a page which was certainly intended to 
complete the portrait only given in outline by the chronicler, but this 
page remained blank. 

52 Gondi, Vita, op. cit., p.59. 
33 Cf. supra, Pt.I, Ch.II, l.d. 
54 D7. 


Agostino Gallo takes up the same subject, going into a little more 
detail, 55 but there is one fact which even he does not explain: Angela, ac- 
cording to him, had been kept for thirty days in an open coffin in the 
crypt of the church; in spite of that, not only had no bad smell been 
given off, but her flesh had undergone no corruption and her limbs had 
retained all the flexibility of a living body. 

Canon Tribesco says that the body remained exposed “for several 
days”, without adding anything else. 56 

Bellintani is the first to mention openly “a dispute between the 
Cathedral and the church of St Afra over the question of her body, 
because these two churches were each trying to secure that holy relic”. 57 
The Canons of the Cathedral no doubt claimed some right to it on the 
grounds that the oratory of Isabetta Prato was on their territory, but the 
Canons of the Lateran were reclaiming their parishioner. 

That a difference of opinions should occur at the moment of burial, 
and that a dispute should break out between two groups of canons as to 
which of their churches should possess Angela’s mortal remains, can be 
understood. But the discovery of the indult from the Sacred Apostolic 
Penitentiary, which made it clear that a Franciscan church was to be 
excluded and that Angela’s preferential choice was for the church of St 
Afra, settled the question; the body at last could be laid to rest in that 
church. 58 

We found no trace of this dispute in any other documents, but Do- 
neda had already declared in his time: “The proofs of this quarrel cannot 
be found”. 59 

Five years earlier, though, a dispute between the Canons of the 
Cathedral and those of S. Giovanni Evangelista for less important rea- 
sons had caused far more stir, mention being made of it in the order of 
the day of the General Council of the city of Brescia at its meeting of 6 
December 1535. 

A few days previously, at the funeral of Lorenzo Patuzzi, the can- 
ons of the two churches had quarrelled over the question of the order 
of precedence to be adopted at the funeral ceremony: “deventum fuit ad 
rixam; eaque fuit tabs et tanta, quae non solum cessit admirationi sed et 

” D16. 

56 D25. 

57 Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., BQ, ms.B.VI.30, f.[20r]; Monumenta , p.92. “Una lite nata fra il Duomo 
et la chiesa di S. Affra per cagion del suo corpo, posciache qual sacra reliquia procuravano queste 
due chiese di haverlo”. 

58 Cf. supra, 2; D9. 

59 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.86. 


malo exemplo et scandalo civitati nostrae”. And as the behaviour of 
these ecclesiastics had been disedifying, “speculum et norma humilitatis, 
patientiae, bonorum morum et omnis boni exempli”, it was decided to 
charge the public Deputy and the Deputy “supra honestate monasterio- 
rum” to take steps to see that “ne in futurum similia inconvenientia sequi 
habeant”. 60 

Angela’s prestige and renown for sanctity probably prevented the 
affair from having such noisy repercussions, apart from the long wait 
in the open coffin in the crypt of St Afra. This delay, though, made it 
possible for a painter - traditionally believed to have been Moretto - to 
make a portrait of Angela lying there in the sleep of death. This painting 
on wood was used to seal the niche in which the bier had been placed. It 
appears to be lost today. During the ordinary process of beatification, it 
was carefully examined by two experts, the painter Francesco Monti, 
who attributed it to Moretto, and the painter Francesco Savanni, who 
recognised in it Romanino’s hand. 

We are giving Savanni’s report on it, in case it might help in the re- 
covery of this painting: “The board which is sealing the tomb of Blessed 
Angela Merici and which I am now examining, I believe to have been 
painted by Girolamo Romanino, our own Brescian painter, who was a 
pupil of Titian and was working from 1537. It seems to me that I see his 
style of painting here, particularly in the face and in the hands, by the de- 
sign and the colouring, and also by his habit of lengthening the sleeves 
so that they cover a good part of the hands, as can be seen in the picture 
in question. 

“The latter certainly goes back to the period under discussion, in 
other words it is two hundred years old and perhaps even a little more, 
because it is painted on wood coated with plaster, a technique employed 
especially by Titian, Moretto, Romanino, Calisto da Lodi and Zambel- 
lini, but which was discontinued later. Another sign of its antiquity is 
that the colours have become dark and the paint has flaked off in more 
than one place. 

“Blessed Angela Merici is shown here as a dead person lying on her 
back, and I know it is she from having seen some printed pictures of her 
which are circulating here and there, and there is a perfect likeness be- 
tween these and the one in the painting, both in the physiognomy and 
in the habit, which is what the religious of the Third Order of St Francis 
used to wear, namely the veil and the religious wimple which the Terti- 

60 ASC, Provision /', n.534, ff.92r-93r. 


aries today, at least in Brescia, no longer wear, and the long grey-beige 
cape which completely covers her, apart from the hands and the feet 
which remain uncovered. 

“It seems to me, too, that two small additions were made later to 
this painting and they are visible. This appears clear to me principally 
from the fact that they have not been done on the plaster but simply 
painted in a colour which harmonizes with the rest of the picture and is 
obviously more recent”. 61 

Faino thought the painting was the work of Moretto. Lombardi re- 
ports: “In the Vita manuscript which he sent to the Elector Ferdinand 
Maria of Bavaria in 1671, and in a letter which he wrote to the Noble 
Lady Cecilia Sagredo in Venice (the original of which is kept by the 
Ursulines of Venice), Bernardino Faino says that the Bl. Angela in that 
picture was ‘a true to life painting by Alessandro Moretto, a well-known 
Brescian painter of that period who had been a pupil of Raphael of 
Urbino, and who painted so realistically with his brush, that one could 
not tell the difference between the original and the copy’ ”. 62 

The choice remains between Moretto and Romanino. 

There is also a description in the Catalogue of Antonio Morassi: 63 

61 APC. Vat. 340, ff.687v-688r. “La tavola che serve a chiudere il deposito della Beata Angela Me- 
rici, che attualmente sto considerando, io la giudico dipinta da Girolamo Romanino nostro bre- 
sciano, il qual fu scolaro di Tiziano, e operava sino dell’anno 1537, perche mi par di vedervi il di lui 
carattere di dipingere, particolarmente nella faccia e nelle mani, per li contorni, per il colorire, e per 
un certo suo costume di allungare le maniche, cosiche coprissero buona parte delle mani, come si 
vede nella presente figura. 

“Certamente essa e del tempo sudetto, cioe antica di duecento e forse piu anni, perche e dipinta sul 
legno ingessato, come praticarono di fare specialmente Tiziano, Moretto, Romanino, Calisto da 
Lodi e Zambellini, e di poi si e communemente dismesso; e mi da indizio di buona antichita anche 
l’esser divenuti neri i colori, e l’essersi la pittura in piu d’un luogo scrostata. 

“Essa rappresenta la Beata Angela Merici distesa supina e nello stato di morta, e cio lo so per aver 
veduti alcuni ritratti a stampa della detta Beata che vanno attorno, a i quali rassomiglia perfetta- 
mente questa figura della tavola nella fisonomia quanto nell’abito, che e di religiosa del Terzo Or- 
dine di San Francesco all’uso antico, cioe con velo e bavero da monaca, che le Terziarie moderne, al- 
meno qui in Brescia, non costumano piu, e con un lungo mantello di color bigio che tutta la 
cuopre, a riserva delle mani e dei piedi, che restano scoperti. 

“Sono anche di parere che alia detta tavola siano state fatte posteriormente due picciole giunte che si 
vedono; e cio mi si rende chiaro principalmente dal non essere ingessate ma solamente tinte di un 
colore che accompagna il rimanente della tavola, e che mostra d’esser piu fresco”. 

62 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.137: “Bernardino Faino nella Vita manoscritta da lui mandata all’Elet- 
tor Ferdinando Maria di Baviera nel 1671, e in una Lettera che scrisse alia Nobil Donna Cecilia 
Sagredo in Venezia (l’originale di questa lettera conservasi appresso le Orsoline di Venezia), dice che 
la B. Angela era in quella tavola tutto ‘al naturale dipinta da Alessandro Moretto bresciano, celebre 
pittore di que’ tempi, allievo di Rafaello d’Urbino, che col pennello imitava si bene la natura, che 
dalla copia all’originale non si scorgeva divario’”. 

65 Ministero della Educazione Nazionale, Direzione Generale delle Antichita e Belle Arti. Catalogo 
delle cose ctarte e di antichita d’ Italia, Brescia, a cura di Antonio Morassi, La Libreria dello Stato, 


“Board which is believed to have been the original cover of the coffin. 
The Saint is represented on her death-bed, her face almost in profile; the 
head, enveloped in a veil and crowned with a garland of laurel, is resting 
on two high pillows. The body, on its back, dressed in a dark robe, is 
stretched out on a bed (but only half of the body). It is the oldest por- 
trait of Angela Merici ... Painted in oil on wood, measuring 0.46 x 1.50m 
.... This painting is certainly closer to Moretto’s style, from which it is 
derived, than to Romanino’s”. 

At this point we are faced with a problem: Is the painting examined 
by Morassi the same as the one described earlier, and, if so, when and 
why had the board been made shorter? 

There is another painting which seems to owe its origin to the acci- 
dental delay in the burial. It is unanimously agreed that it is the work of 
a painter of distinction. Angela Merici is shown here half-length, in the 
peaceful sleep of death. Her face bears the impression of an aura of deep 
spirituality, as if the painter had wanted to capture for ever on the canvas 
the interior gaze of the contemplative. 

At the time of the Processes, this painting was kept in the oratory 
of the Company of St Ursula, which was adjacent to the church dedi- 
cated to the same Saint. 

In his judgment on the painting as an art-expert, Francesco Monti 
said: “If it is not by Moretto, as I would think, then it is certainly the 
work of an artist of distinction of that time”, and Francesco Savanni en- 
dorsed this opinion. A description of this painting is given in D36,b. 

Four epitaphs were originally attached to the sarcophagus. Two 
were the work of a certain Don Valeriano from Bergamo, a Canon Reg- 
ular of the Lateran, and another was by a law-expert called Zanetti. 
Would he perhaps be the notary Girolamo Zanetti who, in 1538, had 
drawn up the deed by which Lucrezia Lodrone settled a legacy in favour 
of the Company? 64 The last epitaph was by Gabriele Cozzano, professor 
of letters. Nazari has given an account of these four epitaphs at the end 
of his Vita. 65 

Roma, 1939, XVII, p.22: “Tavola che si ritiene essere stata l’antico coperchio della cassa funebre. La 
Santa e rappresentata sul letto di morte; il viso si presenta quasi di profilo; il capo, avvolto in un 
velo e con una ghirlanda d’alloro, posa su due alti guanciali. Il corpo, supino, vestito di una veste 
scura, e steso su un letto (fino a meta corpo soltanto). F, la piu antica rappresentazione della Merici... 
Dipinto ad olio su tavola: misura m 0,46 x 1,50... La tavola e certamente piu affine all’arte del Mo- 
retto, da cui deriva, che non a quella del Romanino”. 

M APC. Vat. 341, f.924; and supra, Pt.II, Ch.IIl, d. 

65 D17. 


— By the Reverend Valeriano from Bergamo, Canon Regular: 

“Martyr by your own will, virgin in deed and teacher by word, 
Thus, O Blessed Angela, you rejoice, rich with your triple crown. 
You taught once, Angela, how to live a virtuous life; 

Come now to protect and to defend your country”. 

- By the same: 

“In life, I was called Angela; in death I am called an ‘angel’. 

And, indeed, it is as an angel that I am joined to the angelic choir. 
You who knew me, live following my example. 

Do as I taught you; in death, I am teaching you still”. 

— By a certain Zanetti, doctor of law: 

“Buried in this tomb is one who 

By name, and even more by her whole life, 

Was worthy to be compared with the heavenly choirs. 

In three places Angela is to be found: 

Her body in the tomb, her spirit in heaven. 

And her name on the lips of men”. 

- By Gabriele Cozzano, professor of letters: 

“Here lies Angela, wearing a crown of many virtues 
While waiting for the final resurrection. 

Her ardent spirit has entered the heavenly dwelling-place 
And, innocent, stands before the Most High God. 

This is the virgin who, in her lifetime, by a rule of life 
Established a company illustrious for its virginity. 

Heed me, O Brescia, venerate this sacred tomb, 

For she can do all things, this holy virgin close to God”. 

It was Don Gianfrancesco de’ Saramonti, Canon of St Afra, who 
undertook the task of seeing that a worthy tomb was prepared. Nazari 
described it, even adding a sketch in his “Libro della Vita” which is lost. 
We are giving the description 66 as it was written down in the Atti del 

Later on, in the 1580’s, when the Canons of the Lateran were restor- 
ing the church of St Afra, they asked the Company of St Ursula for a 
contribution towards a more dignified resting-place for their Found- 
ress. It seems that, some time earlier, 80 lire planete had already been 
collected with this purpose in mind, but then, on account of the plague, 
nothing had been done. At the Council meeting of 21 December 1588, 

66 D12. 


“it was decided that the Company would pay the eighty lire which had 
been received as alms, as already mentioned, and then it would add the 
difference to make up the required one hundred lire, and this sum had 
to be handed over to the said Reverend Fathers, on condition that the 
money was spent on the aforementioned tomb”. 67 

The tomb of Angela was subsequently moved. Today the Saint lies 
in a glass case in the church which used to be called St Afra and is now 
the shrine of St Angela Merici. 

More than two centuries after her death, during the Process of can- 
onisation, the mortal remains of Angela were once again the cause for 
dispute, but this time over how these remains should be dressed, after 
the recognition of the body as was required by procedure. 

On 19 December 1772, the postulatrix of the cause. Mother Maria 
Luisa di S. Giuseppe Schiantarelli, Ursuline of the “venerable monas- 
tery” of Rome, put the request to Cardinal Giovanni Molino, bishop 
of Brescia and Relator of the cause of canonisation, that the remains of 
Bl. Angela should be reclothed in black, such as the Ursulines of all 
branches were wearing, since “every founder always dresses in the col- 
our worn by his sons, even if in his lifetime he had dressed differently. 
It follows that, despite the fact that Blessed Angela was dressed in 
grey-beige when she was alive, and that she had been dressed in the same 
way after her death, it seems much more to the point today to dress her 
in the uniform colour worn by all Ursulines, just as we see so very, very 
many holy founders with a habit similar to that worn by their followers, 
even though they certainly had not worn it when they were alive. More- 
over, innumerable printed pictures of her effigy, and paintings in the 
public churches of the monasteries, colleges and houses of our Institute, 
all show her dressed in black, and these go back a considerable number 
of years and even, for a few, as far as the last century, so that the pictures 
are very old ...”. 68 

67 Secondo IJbro Generate (subsequently indicated by the letters SLG), f.l71r: “fu concluso che siano 
pagate per la detta Compagnia le sudette lire ottanta quale furono ellemosinate ut supra, et appresso 
che si supplisca tanto che siano in tutto lire cento, quali debbano esser consignati alii detti Rdi Padri, 
con obligo di spenderli nel deposito antedetto”. 

68 M. Luisa Schiantarelli, lettera 19-XII-1772, AV, Cause Beadficazione 432/1: “ogni fondatore si 
veste sempre del colore de’ suoi figli, ancorche egli sia stato diversamente vestito in vita. Da cio ne 
siegue che, benche sia vero che la Beata ancor viva vestisse di color bigio, e che dello stesso sia stata 
vesdta dopo la sua morte, tutta volta in oggi sembra molto conveniente che si vesta di color uni- 
forme a tutte le Orsoline, appunto come vediamo tand e tanti sand fondatori dell’abito simile a 
quello di lor seguaci, benche sia certo non averlo essi in vita costumato. Di piu, innumerabili 
stampe della sua effigie, e quadri nelle publiche chiese de’ monasteri, collegi e case del nostro Ish- 
tuto la rappresentano vesdta di nero, e cio da moltissimi anni, e qualcheduno sin dal secolo passato, 
siche sono quadri antichi...”. 


Mother Luisa made the most of an “Instruction” addressed to the 
ordinary of Brescia by the late Mgr Carlo Alessio Pisani, then Promoter 
of the Faith, who in anticipation of the recognition of the body and of 
the tomb in St Afra, had dictated the procedure to be followed for the 
cleaning of the remains and for clothing them afresh. The Instruction 
suggested preparing the new clothes “quae sericae sint, et quoad formam 
illis respondeant quibus in antiquis tabulis Beata Angela ornata conspici- 
tur, nigri coloris scilicet cum manicis laxis, prout adhibent Religiosae 
Ordinis Sancti Augustini”. 69 

But the Franciscans, in the meantime, had made their position clear 
through the person of Fra Luigi Maria from Rome, postulator-general of 
the Franciscan Minors of the Observance. Neither Carlo Doneda nor the 
other judges were in favour of Mother Luisa’s plan. This can be gath- 
ered from her letter to Cardinal Molino, transmitted through Cardinal 
Calino: “I have no doubt of your favours towards me, because His Emi- 
nence Calino has indicated to me his commitment, which is no less than 
yours, to persuading Signor Doneda and the others with him to dress 
our Blessed in black. In support of their cause, they have slyly brought 
on to the battlefield the Franciscan Order which, without letting me 
know, has had printed an incoherent Memoir, with the aim of proving 
that which, for my part, I do not contest, as Your Eminence will be 
able to see from the two memoirs, theirs and mine”. 69b,s And she picks 
up again her argument in favour of the black habit worn by all the 

The “Memoir” mentioned 70 gathers together all the evidence about 
Angela’s belonging to the Franciscan Third Order and supports the his- 
toricity of the grey-beige habit. 

The question was settled by the Decree of the Sacred Congregation 
dated 27 March 1773. The testimonies collected at Brescia said: “dictam 
Beatam Angelam Tertiariam fuisse dicti Ordinis Minorum de Observan- 
tia Sancti Francisci, dicti Ordinis habitum induisse semper, eodem depic- 
tam reperiri in antiquis et authenticis tabulis, et indutum adhuc reperiri 

69 APC, Vat. 341, f.997r-v. 

6,b “Non dubbito delle di lei grazie a mio favore, avendomi significato l’Emo Calino, 1’impegno non 
men suo, che di Vostra Eminenza per indurre il sig. Doneda e gli altri con esso a vestire la nostra 
Beata di nero. A sostenere il loro impegno hanno fatto uscire alia sordina in campo la Religione 
Francescana, quale senza farmi parola a date alle stampe un incoerente Memoriale, che prende a pro- 
vare cio che per parte mia non si contrasta, come l’Eminenza Vostra rilevara dalli due memoriali, 
loro e mio...”. 

70 Alla Sagra Congregazione de’ Riti L’Emo e Rmo Sig. Card. Calini Ponente Brixien. Canom^atioms 
B. Angelae Merici Tertiariae professae Ordinis Minorum de Observantia S. Francisci Fundatricis Societatis 
S. Ursu/ae. Per Fra Luigi Maria da Roma... dell’Ordine de’ Minori Osservanti di S. Francesco, in 
Roma 1772, Typis Bernabo, AV, Cause Beatificazione 432/1. 


Sacrum Corpus...”. And so the Sacred Congregation “censuit rescriben- 
dum: quod Corpus Beatae Angelae novis cooperiatur vestibus sericis, 
quae quoad formam et colorem illis respondeant, quibus in antiquis 
tabulis induta conspicitur; si Sanctissimo Domino nostro placuerit”. 
On April 3 1773, “Sanctitas Sua benigne annuit”. 71 

The ritual to be followed had been dictated by Mgr Pisani in his 
“Instruction”: “Eaedem vestes benedicendae erunt, deinde ope monia- 
lium, seu piarum ac nobilium mulierum corpori aptandae. Dum autem 
haec fiunt, secreto tamen clausisque ecclesiae januis, poterunt aliquae 
candelae accendi ante sacras exuvias, et ab ecclesiasticis personis quae ibi 
aderunt, psalmi et antiphonae de communi Virginum cani...”. 72 

On 30 August 1774, four virgins of the Company of St Ursula at 
Brescia reclothed Blessed Angela in the grey-beige tunic and cape, with a 
white linen wimple and a white veil. While this was going on, “ab eccle- 
siasticis psalmi et hymni de Communi Virginum canebantur, aliis intorti- 
tia accensa gestantibus”. 73 The Brescian clergy thus rendered homage to 
the humble foundress of the Company of St Ursula. 

71 APC, Vat. 341, f.998r-v. 

72 Ibid., f.997v. 

7J Ibid., f.!015r. Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.IV, 3.a. 



Chapter VII 


Certain biographical items of information, such as pilgrimages, 
penances, supernatural experiences, interpersonal relationships inspired 
by a deep spirituality, recur over and over again in Merician historiogra- 
phy and have become almost emblematic of Angela’s life on earth. But 
there are others which are only referred to in passing, such as happens 
sometimes with events which are actually taking place before people’s 
eyes and therefore seem more or less obvious. And so it is with the 
events leading to the institution of the Company of St Ursula; there 
exists no clear account to enable one to go through its various stages or 
to reconstruct its underlying reasons and circumstances. All we have are 
a few scattered references in the documents of the period, and these have 
to be rescued with patience and then put together again according to 
their logic, so as to bring out at least the main outline of the plan in- 

If we do this, we are able to discover how personal intuition and 
vocational mission required a long process of maturation, and how the 
divine plan was finally realised in an institution which had the stamp of 
originality and at the same time, from the very beginning, the frame- 
work of a strong and vigorous structure. 

We will present, as complementary information, the results of our 
research in the historico-hagiographical and iconographical fields; while, 
on the other hand, a careful indexing of the Secondo Libro Generate and of 
notarial acts hitherto unknown has helped us to throw light on the very 
first virgins, pointed out by Cozzano and Faino. 


There is no document which gives us explicit information about 
when the personal intuition and the vocational mission became a con- 
scious design and began to take shape as a project. Angela does not seem 


to have said anything about it, and her direct witnesses saw no need to 
say anything. 

The inferior condition of most women in the 16th century is well 
known. They generally had to submit to the wishes of their parents or 
tutors; the prevailing mentality looked on them as being subject to men 
and as needing constant protection, and this limited their freedom of 
choice. And yet at that epoch it was not unknown for women to play a 
leading role in various walks of life, but to do so they had had to defy 
prejudices, and their commitment often struck a provocative note. Even 
more serious, it could be quite costly, unless a woman was favoured by 
particular circumstances and was able to make use of her privileges. The 
majority of women, however, were directed towards the married state or 
to the monastic life. 

Owing to frequent forays of armed men and to violent situations 
breaking out easily on the one side, and to the old custom of the law of 
primogeniture on the other, but for very different reasons, parents were 
pushed by understandable apprehensions into “arranging” for their 
daughters to be placed under the physical and juridical protection of a 
husband or behind the grille of a monastery. At the same time, wars and 
misery led to an increase in prostitution. 

If the woman belonged to the lower middle-class, it was certainly 
easier to marry her off, whether she wanted to marry or not, whether she 
wanted that particular husband or not, whereas the monasteries, not hav- 
ing any remunerative activity, used to ask from aspirants a dowry which 
would assure their livelihood or, at least, the benefit of protection by 
prestigious and influential families. 

Thus, between the marriage frequently reduced to a form of barter, 
and the often forced taking of the veil, women saw their inescapable sub- 
ordinate position being endorsed, their own legitimate aspirations frus- 
trated and their own right of free choice suffocated. 

Angela was a powerless witness of this precarious state of women; 
she could not remain insensitive to the painful evidence of secret inner 
torments, of regrets, of stifled rebellions, the confidence of which she re- 
ceived in her meetings with them. Then there was the prophecy she had 
heard at the Brudazzo, announcing that she was being entrusted with the 
mission of establishing a spiritual family of virgins; and she must have 
stored this up in her heart, while waiting to see what it meant. Perhaps 
the meaning had gradually become clearer to her precisely in the course 
of these meetings with young girls and women who were longing to 
consecrate themselves totally to Christ, but found themselves forced by 
circumstances into a marriage which they did not want. The lack of 
dowry, of health or of attraction to the cloister, or certain obstacles 


which made it impossible to leave the family roof, at times used to keep 
some of them back in the world, and the prevailing custom then exposed 
them to an unwelcome marriage. Defenceless against public opinion, the 
only thing they could do was to conform, carrying a life-long regret in 
their heart. 

The solution which presented itself to Angela’s mind was unheard- 
of at that time. It was a question of finding an alternative to the religious 
life, an alternative which would keep the intrinsic meaning of the total 
and definitive consecration of the religious life, even outside the monas- 
tery, and yet which would provide a guarantee of protection and of secu- 
rity for the woman and for her choice, defending her against possible 
opposition on the part of her family. 

It was a solution challenging both tradition and custom and, at the 
beginning, it would not find any juridical support, because it constituted 
a break with a system rooted in the past, hallowed by egoisms and by 
almost insurmountable prejudices. 

One can understand why Angela, in spite of the divine message she 
had received, hesitated, prevaricated and put off the realisation of her 
project until almost the end of her life. Ottavio Gondi relates that a new 
intervention from heaven was necessary to help her to make up her 
mind: “One night she was castigated by an angel and severely repri- 
manded by Christ because she was taking a long time over starting this 
holy Company ”. 1 Would this perhaps have been something he had picked 
up from the Luzzago family? 

Cozzano is not so explicit, but he lets it be understood that some- 
thing must have happened to make her come to a decision, certainly a 
supernatural experience, even if we do not know how it happened: “First 
of all, God himself inspired and at the same time compelled our 
foundress Mother to plant and to establish in his name this holy rule of 
life. So very true is this, that she did not call it her Company, but Jesus 
Christ’s, and she did all she could for it, not as a mistress but as a serv- 
ant. And although she had been inspired with the idea of it when she 
was a child and shown it from on high, and although she had a great 
longing for it, she had never wanted to start it, however, until com- 
manded by Jesus Christ to do so, until he had cried out within her heart 
and had impelled and constrained her to begin and to establish it ...”. 2 

In his writings, Cozzano makes certain remarks which help to give 

Gondi, l ita, op. cit ., p.51. “Una notte fu flagellata dall’ Angelo, e aspramente ripresa da Christo, 
perche induggiava a dare principio a questa benedetta Compagnia”. 

2 D22, [f.963r]. 


us some idea of what it was that could have made Angela hesitant about 
founding the Company. Suffice it to recall the accusations hurled against 
the Foundress after her death, when her removal made it easy for public 
opinion to pass comments: “She certainly deserves to be reviled, this Sis- 
ter Angela, who urged so many virgins to promise virginity, without 
giving due thought to the fact that she was leaving them in the midst 
of the perils of the world where they could not help falling into danger, 
or getting married, or taking some other path ”. 3 So many were they 
that the families at a certain social level “do not desire or want their 
daughters to enter there ”. 4 

The main reason for the accusations was, therefore, the fact that she 
had left “virgins in the midst of the world, something which no pa- 
triarch had dared to do ”. 5 

There was a second reason: the Company did not correspond to any 
of the states of life generally accepted at that time. The “new life” pro- 
posed by Angela stepped outside the traditional framework, with the re- 
sult that its Foundress was accused of pride: “She has attempted ... a 
work which many saints never attempted to do ”. 6 People even expressed 
doubt about the eternal salvation of the Foundress , 7 accusing her of be- 
ing presumptuous. 

Immediately after Angela’s death — as we will see later - reactions 
and objections brought about the first reform of the Company. Angela 
had probably foreseen the consequences of her courageous action and 
the difficulties that her institution would have to face, on account of its 
somewhat revolutionary implication and also of the kind of emancipa- 
tion of women it indirectly championed and involved. At the same time, 
she must have pondered over the risks which her daughters were likely 
to run, starting with the one of not being able to receive the dowry or 
inheritance which would have been theirs if they had married or had 
made solemn profession in a monastery. Eventually, however, she had 
had to bow to God’s plan. Cozzano, her secretary and Chancellor of the 
Company, would write: “She alone, under divine inspiration, was the 
foundress of such a great work. She is the real and living mother, who 
has generated and regenerated them in the Word of truth and in the 
Blood of Jesus Christ ”. 8 

3 D23, ff.l4v-15r. 

4 Ibid. f.l5r. 

5 Ibid. 

6 Ibid. f.24v. 

7 Ibid. f. 19r. 

8 D24, [f.974r] 


Cozzano, however, does not exhaust the reasons which made An- 
gela decide to institute the Company of St Ursula. Francesco Landini, 
on the other hand, summarises them succinctly: “It seems that divine 
Providence has raised up this honoured vocation to help and to exalt 
many young virgins, both rich and poor, who, although they have great 
respect for the religious life, nevertheless feel in no way inclined to shut 
themselves away with so much strictness in the cloister, or to bind them- 
selves by vows, or who are too poor to enter the cloister or do not want 
to for other good reasons. Nevertheless, they desire to follow the Lamb 
wheresoever he goes, to sing the new canticle, and to be crowned, they 
also, with the shining diadem of the halo”. 9 

This statement of Landini remains the clearest document we have 
about the origins of the Company and of its purpose. Doneda draws in- 
spiration from it and confirms it: “As to Angela’s purpose, or rather, 
that of God himself in setting up, through her, a new Society, this is 
what her historians say, what she herself made clear, (48) and what I am 
setting out briefly. Seeing that many young girls, called by God to the 
state of perpetual chastity, could not enter a monastery for lack of dowry 
or of health, or because they did not have the courage to submit them- 
selves to the life of the cloister, she was inspired to found a congregation 
of secular virgins, living in their own homes after the fashion of the vir- 
gins of the first centuries, exempt from monastic observances, but in no 
way lacking any or almost any of the spiritual and corporal helps enjoyed 
by the cloistered virgins”. 10 Note 48 reproduces in part Landini’s text, to 
which Doneda adds: “In an ancient manuscript copy of the Rule one can 
read this preamble: Since in the Christian life and law the state of virgins 
and widows is praised as being more suitable than the state of marriage 
for attending to the things of God, and since not everyone is called to a 
monastery, we have instituted a little rule for those who would like to 
serve God in virginity or widowhood.”. 11 

9 Landini, Estratto, op. tit ., D15. 

10 Doneda, Vita, op. tit., p.72: “Qual fine avesse la B. Angela, o per meglio dire, Iddio stesso nel- 
l’instituire per mezzo di lei una nuova Societa, lo dicono li suoi istorici, anzi ella stessa lo paleso (48), 
ed io brevemente l’espongo. Vedendo che molte giovani chiamate da Dio alio stato di perpetua ca- 
stita, non potevano entrare nei monasteri per difetto di dote o di sanita, o non avevano il coraggio 
di sottomettersi alia clausura, fu inspirata di fondare una congregazione de vergini secolari abitanti 
nelle proprie case, su la norma delle vergine dei primi secoli, esenti dalle obbligazioni dei monasteri, 
alle quali, non ostante, niuno o quasi niuno mancasse di quegli aiuti spirituali e corporali di cui go- 
dono le vergini claustrali”. 

11 Ibid., p.148: “In un esemplare antico manoscritto della Regola si legge questo Proemio: Essendo 
nella vita et regula Christiana laudato il stato delle vergini et vidue come piu atto ad attendere alle 
cose di Dio, che non e il matrimonio, et non essendo chiamato ogni uno a monasterii, havemo insti- 
tuito una regoletta per quelle che nella virginita o viduita vorranno servire a Dio”. 


The text of Landini and the one that Doneda extracted from the 
“ancient manuscript copy of the Rule”, together with Cozzano’s writ- 
ings, are the only documents at present which throw light on Angela’s 
project, born from the need to find some way out of the unresolved, 
concrete situation of her day. 

This would not be, though, a compromise or makeshift solution, 
but a precise form of consecrated life, a form alternative to the cloistered 
life, with the same ends of personal sanctification and of glorification of 
God; it would employ the same means, namely, prayer, penance, the 
practice of the evangelical counsels; it would differ only in having a sec- 
ular character. 

The spirituality which Angela would give to the Company would 
include the same demands and suggestions as those which characterised 
the contemplative religious life; the austere disciplinary rules, spelt out in 
detail, would aim at safeguarding not only the chastity of its members 
understood as an end in itself, but also their total virginity, envisaged as 
a nuptial gift offered and consecrated to God. For this reason, even 
while continuing to live in the world, Angela’s daughters would qualify 
as no longer belonging to the world. 

The structures established for mutual support, and the precepts for 
reciprocal aid in certain instances, were aimed at instilling a sense of be- 
longing in those young people who seemed to be on the periphery of a 
canonical state of life; they also enabled them to give an exterior witness 
of belonging to a specific group, the Company of St Ursula, which was 
much more demanding than the confraternities and the Third Orders 
then in existence. 

Whatever the reasons which induced Angela to choose St Ursula as 
patroness of the newborn institute, the Foundress said nothing at all 
on the subject. We can try and discover them, however, by reflecting on 
the cult and tradition of St Ursula at that time. 


Faino tried to explain the motives for the choice of St Ursula as 
patroness of the Company by resorting to flimsy arguments. Those put 
forward by Doneda are more reliable: 12 “The virgin and martyr St Ur- 

12 Faino, Vita, op. cit., pp.49-50; Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.76-77. “La vergine e martire S. Orsola, 
come leggesi nella sua storia, fu capo e condottiera intrepida di migliaia di vergini, le quali, incorag- 
gite dall’esempio e dalle esortazioni di lei, resisterono valorosamente agli assalti di un impuro ido- 
latra esercito, e, con lo spargimento del proprio sangue per amore di Cristo, gloriosamente trionfa- 


sula, as one reads in her story, was the leader and intrepid commander of 
thousands of virgins who, encouraged by her example and exhortations, 
valiantly resisted the assaults of an impure and idolatrous army and who, 
by shedding their blood for the love of Christ, gloriously triumphed 
over flesh and hell. And so it was to the protection of this great heroine 
of virginity and faith that Blessed Angela entrusted her Company, so 
that her dear daughters, living in the midst of the world, would be able 
to fight generously in defence of their virginal purity and innocence, by 
recalling to mind the illustrious captain under whose name they have the 
honour of fighting”. 

We searched ourselves for the source from which Angela might 
have derived the inspiration to give the title of St Ursula to her Com- 
pany, notwithstanding her own devotion and admiration for St Cath- 
erine of Alexandria. Not only did we arrive at conclusions similar to 
those of Doneda, but we found in addition some similarities of expres- 
sion, both literary and figurative, between the better known and more 
widespread “passio” of St Ursula and the Merician intuitions. The 
question arises, therefore, as to whether Angela knew about this “pas- 
sio”, or at least had heard the story of it. 

Noting little or no distinction between history and legend, the 
Renaissance made St Ursula one of the most popular and most fre- 
quently represented saints in the figurative arts, on account of the end- 
less retinue of virgins which had followed her to martyrdom after one of 
the most romantic and most romanticised adventures. But our modern 
age, with its rejection of legend, runs the risk of rejecting also the histor- 
ical foundation from which the legend had originated. 

a) History and cult 

The historical testimonies of St Ursula’s martyrdom are lost in the 
mists of time, and the numerous legends which have accumulated, one 
on top of the other, have induced historians to cast doubt not only on 
her name and on the biographical facts concerning her (which cannot 
be verified anyway), but even on her very existence, in spite of the basil- 
ica dedicated to her at Cologne. 

The bombing-raids suffered by the edifice during the Second World 
War allowed archeologists to excavate at depth beneath the foundations 

rono della carne e dell’inferno. Alla protezione adunque di cosi grande eroina della verginita e della 
fede, consegno anche la B. Angela la sua Compagnia, affinche le sue figliuole, vivendo in mezzo al 
secolo, combattessero generosamente a difesa della verginal purita e innocenza, rammentandosi della 
illustre capitana, sotto il cui nome hanno 1’onore di militare”. 


of the apse. These excavations brought to light first of all the remains of 
a Romanesque wall and some alteration works dating probably from the 
10th century. Underneath these were discovered the foundations of the 
so-called basilica of Clematius and, finally, the traces of a building clearly 
prior to 350, namely the ruins of a primitive church constructed on an 
ancient Roman cemetery. 

Here as elsewhere, in fact, the Christians, taking advantage of the 
law which prohibited the “violatio sepulchri”, had buried their martyrs 
in a public cemetery on which, as soon as it became possible, they had 
set up a place of devotion. In 355, when the Franks destroyed the city, 
the church dedicated to the virgin martyrs suffered the same fate. 

Later Clematius, a man of renown of Eastern origin, had recon- 
structed this basilica from its foundations at his own expense, in fulfil- 
ment of a vow, as is proved by an inscription engraved on a stone tablet 
which was embedded in one of the walls of the church at a later date. 13 
The characters of the inscription are of the purest and severest ancient 
style, down to the smallest detail, and the same observation can be ap- 
plied to some of the peculiar spellings. 14 Taken as a whole, this epigraph, 
which recalls the martyrdom of some virgins, can be dated back to the 
period 350-450. At that time the fame of St Ursula and her compan- 
ions had not yet spread, her legend had not yet developed, and so Cle- 
matius had had to take quite a recent tradition as his basis, one which 
went back to events which had actually happened and which could still 
be remembered. 

It was among the ruins of this construction which came after the 
primitive one that a reliquary-tomb of the 10th century was discovered, 
with eleven “loculi” which must have served to house human remains 
after their exhumation. This proved the intrinsic authenticity of the his- 
torical testimony contained in Clematius’ epigraph: “ubi sanctae virgines 
pro nomine Christi sanguinem suum fuderunt”. 15 

The epigraph, in its turn, exonerated Attila and his Huns, who later 
would be held responsible for the massacre of the virgins of Cologne. At 

13 Cabrol-Leclercq, Dictionnaire d’Archeologie chrelienne et de Liturgie, t.III, Paris 1914, cc.2171- 

14 Ibid., c.2173. 

15 Ibid . , cc.2171-2172. The complete text of the epigraph is as follows: “D1V1NIS FLAMMEIS VI- 


the time Attila was sacking the cities in Gaul before meeting with his de- 
feat on the Catalaunian Plain in 451, the second basilica in honour of the 
virgin martyrs was already in existence. 

Martyrs without a name and without a history. Eleven of them. But 
the barbarian invasions which followed one upon the other over a long 
period wiped out this little nucleus of historical truth to which the “lo- 
culi” were able to bear witness. 

Wandelbert of Priim, in his martyrology in verse which appeared in 
848, 16 was the first to make allusion to thousands of martyrs, whom he 
eulogises in four verses. The number of verses, exceptional in his whole 
work, is indicative of the great interest he attached to them: 

“Tunc numerosa simul Rheni per litora fulgent 
Christo virgineis erecta trophea maniplis 
Agrippinae urbi, quarum furor impius olim 
Millia mactavit ductricibus inclita sanctis”. 17 

21 October was the day fixed for the commemoration of the mar- 
tyrs. The church, the monastery 18 and the chapter, established already 
since the 9th century, were called “Sanctarum Virginum”, “ad sanctas 

From this same 9th century onwards, martyrologies, calendars, lita- 
nies all bear witness to the existence at Cologne of a very special cult, 
sometimes directed towards anonymous virgins, sometimes towards 
eleven virgins whose number would increase, with a complete disregard 
for any numerical limit, at times even reaching eleven thousand. 

A Sermo in natali Sanctarum Virginum XI Millium , 19 preached by an 
anonymous panegyrist of the 10th century, gives a hint that these mar- 
tyrs by then had fallen into a certain oblivion, since the author hopes 
that a writer will finally take up the pen to tell the story of the Eleven 
Thousand Virgins. Already some of them had been given names, names 
of Roman origin which were frequent in the 4th and 5th centuries: Mar- 
tha, Saula, Brictola or Britula, Gregoria, Saturnina, Sabatia or Rabacia, 
Pinnosa or Vinnosa, Ursola or Ursula, Sentia, Palladia, Saturia. 20 

16 Analecta Bollandiana , t.LXXIX, p.273. 

17 WANDELBERT of PrOm, Martyrology, vv.671-674, ibid., and in Acta Sanctorum, Octobris , t.lX, 
1869, p.145 and p.272. 

18 “Parthenon S. Ursulae quando primum conditum fuerit, non satis liquet. In documentis historicis 
primum memoratur anno 992”, in Historia SS. Ursulae et Sociarum eius hactenus editis antiquior ex co- 
dice Bruxellensi 831-34. Collato cum Cod. Brux. 8917. Cf. Analecta Bollandiana , III, 1884, p.8, note 1. 

19 Acta Sanctorum, Octobris , t.IX, 1869, cit., pp. 154-157. 

20 Guy DK TflRVARENT, La legende de Sainte Ursule dans la litterature et /' art du Moyen-Age, t.l, texte, 
Paris. Les editions G. Van Oest, 1931, p.ll. Most of this information and of that which follows 
comes from this work. 


Thus, at the height of the Middle Ages, here are Roman Christian 
names instead of Frankish ones. Had they been suggested perhaps by the 
tomb-stones of the ancient cemetery? Or had they been invented, with a 
concern for historical coherence scarcely known at that time? Or had 
these names, in spite of everything, been handed down by oral tradition? 
Lacking the necessary data, we are unable to answer these questions in a 
critical way. We can only give the following conclusions: some virgins 
were certainly martyred at Cologne between the 3rd and 4th centuries; 
they immediately became the object of a cult; in spite of the barbarian in- 
vasions, their cult was kept alive; regarding their number, names and the 
circumstances of their martyrdom, nothing is to be found in documents 
of historical value. 

The first formulary of a Mass in honour of the Martyrs of Cologne 
gives as the official title of the feast: “Sanctarum XI Virginum”, 21 while 
Wandelbert speaks about thousands of saints. 

Wilhelm Levison, in his Das Werden der Ursu/a-Legende 22 gives a 
plausible explanation: “In the manuscripts, the stroke placed above a let- 
ter signifies either that this letter can be taken as a number, or that this 
number itself is to be understood as so many thousands. XT, which 
means eleven, would then have been read as ‘eleven thousand’... We must 
not forget, though, that this hypothesis ... rests on a postulate, namely 
that there was the figure eleven at the beginning”. 

Gradually the Eleven Thousand became the accepted number. 

According to the preacher of the Sermo in natali mentioned above, 
this group came from Britain under the leadership of Vinnosa (Pinnosa 
for the Germans). But when the bones were transferred to Essen, her 
place in popular devotion was taken by Ursula. This name, moreover, is 
found in the church of the martyrs, in an inscription on the tomb-stone 
of a little girl of eight years. 23 Homonymy or confusion? The Tact re- 
mains that the feminine community devoted to the cult of the Eleven 
Thousand Virgins believed, and made others believe, that they possessed 
the tomb of St Ursula. It was probably to explain these holy relics 

21 LEDOCHOWSKA, Angela, op. cit., I, p.219. 

22 Wilhelm Levison, Das Werden der Ursu/a-Legende, Koln 1928, quoted by Guy de Tervarent, 

La Legende, op. cit , t.I, p. 12. 

2J The inscription, discovered in 1893, reads: 

In hoc turn) ulo innocis virgo iacet 
no) mine Ursula vixit 
a) nnibus octo 
m) ensibus duobus 
d) iens quattuor. 

In Cabrol-Leclercq, Dictionnaire, op. cit., cc.2164-2163. 


that the oldest “passio”, Fuit tempore pervetusto 24 was written. Its rather 
obscure Latin made its diffusion difficult; only a few rare manuscripts of 
it, in fact, are known. But there is a later one, Passio Sanctarum XI Mil- 
Hum Virginum “Regnante Domino ”, 25 which is easier to read and was 
more generally circulated, since many manuscripts of it are still extant . 26 

It is probably to this “passione” that the preachers used to refer, as 
well as the distributors of relics and the pilgrims who used to depart 
from Germany for the Holy Land, passing through Venice. 

The contents of this legend must have provided the material for the 
commemorative or occasional homilies, and suggested the elements of 
the devotion. Thus, Angela could have known about the terms of this 

We are going to give a resume of the chief passages, following the 
Latin text as closely as possible, precisely in order to bring out the simi- 
larities which we have noticed between certain expressions and the Meri- 
cian language. 

b) The legend 

In ancient Britain lived a king and queen who desired a son. God 
gave them instead a baby-girl, but with the heart of a man, and he sug- 
gested that they call her Ursula, because one day she would strangle the 
devil, as David had done once with the bear. 26b 

Raised according to her state, and yet detached from the riches of 
the world, Ursula longed for spiritual marriage and meditated day and 
night on the law of God (so far, rather a stereotyped profile). The divine 
Artist had already chosen her, and his voice was echoing in her ear: “Lis- 
ten, my daughter, give ear, the king is taken with your beauty”. 

Her hand was sought in marriage by the son of a barbarian and pa- 
gan king, but reassured in a dream from heaven that she would receive 
the palm of martyrdom, Ursula promised to give herself in marriage on 
the following conditions: her father and fiance were to choose ten young 
companions for her; for each one, including herself, they were to add 
another thousand; they would procure eleven ships and allow them three 
years “ad dedicationem virginitatis nostrae”. With an indomitable faith, 
Ursula added: “incommutabile divinae pietatis consilium, quod Dominus 
disposuit super me, nemo est, qui possit infirmare ”. 27 

24 / \i st or la SS. Ursu/ae et Sociarum eius, cit., pp.5-20. 

25 Passio Sanctarum Undecim Mil/ium X'irginum “Regnante Domino”, AA.SS, cit., pp. 157-161. 

26 Cf. Dk Tkrvarent, \m Legende, op. cit., p.l. 

26b Bear: “Ursus” in Latin. 

27 Passio cit., in AA.SS, cit., p.158. 


Very soon the great virginal adventure began; the triremes wel- 
comed this unusual legion of young girls, for the most part pagan; their 
leader was Ursula and the second in command Pinnosa, the daughter of 
an important general, “quasi magistra virginalis militiae”. Surrounded by 
her army of virgins, the blessed Ursula, her face and heart radiant with 
joy, gave thanks to God, and then, as was the custom among brothers- 
in-arms, she revealed her great secret to her companions. With pious ex- 
hortations, she began instructing them in the practice of the love of 
God; she encouraged them and rendered them audacious. They listened 
to her very intently, then raising their hands and hearts to heaven, as if 
they had already promised themselves to Christ with a soldier’s oath of 
allegiance, they promised to be faithful to all their religious duties and to 
encourage each other to carry them out, “utpote quibus jam tunc cor 
unum et anima una erat, supernaque dulcedine praegustata, in mentibus 
earum mundus et gloria viluerat ”. 28 

The transformation of these young pagan girls into Christians and 
their preparation for martyrdom took place on board ship, in a kind of 
idealised area, through an apprenticeship filled with “joie de vivre” and 
the adventurous spirit of adolescence. 

And this is how they celebrated “cum multa iucunditate”, over a 
period of three years, the prelude to their martyrdom, praying together 
to God for the preservation of their virginity. 

A storm drove the ships from Britain towards the Rhine. The Cap- 
tain of this adventure then poured forth her nuptial song to the heavenly 
spouse. “Quod cum puellaris exercitus non clamo[ro]so strepitu, sed pari 
cordis concentu resonaret, canticum hoc laetitiae usque ad aures Domini 
Sabaoth cum odore suavitatis pervenit ”. 29 During the night, a heavenly 
messenger came to Ursula to announce a pilgrimage to Rome “cum dul- 
cissimo hoc sororum tuarum contubernio”, the return to Cologne, the 
martyrdom. When Ursula, “convocata virginum condone”, told them 
about her dream, “communis esultatio facta est, immolatisque laudum 
hostiis, unanimi deliberatione statuerunt iter hoc festinantius peragere ”. 30 
Thanks to a favourable wind, they continued sailing as far as Basle, and 
from there “pedestri itinere Romam pervenerunt. Ubi cum per dies ali- 
quot, perlustratis ubique diversis sanctorum liminibus, pervigiles in ora- 
tione Deo animas suas commendarent... itinere, quo venerant, Basileam 
reversae sunt, ascensisque navibus, per decursum Rheni... tandem Colo- 
niam applicuerunt ”. 31 At Cologne, the Huns fell upon the virgins with 

28 Ibid., p.159. 

29 Ibid., p.160. 

,0 Ibid. 

31 Ibid. 


savage cries, and ruthlessly massacred this innocent flock. 32 

“O quale hac die in caelo factum est tripudium, qualis occursus 
supernorum civium? Quae exsultatio apostolorum? Quam communis 
gloria martyrum et sanctarum virginum de augmento ordinis sui glorian- 
tium?” 33 So ended the passio “Regnante Domino”. 

The renown of Ursula and and of her countless retinue spread very 
rapidly throughout medieval Europe from 1106 onwards. This was the 
year when the famous “ager ursulanus”, in other words, the ancient Ro- 
man cemetery, was discovered. Faced with such a quantity of bones, the 
inhabitants of Cologne believed they had found the burial-ground of Ur- 
sula and her companions, and the legend of the Eleven Thousand Vir- 
gins received the official blessing of History. 

On the steps of the legend also came swarms of relics. The relics 
were instrumental in helping to spread the legend, and in their turn they 
became the source of later legends, so that every skull ended by having 
its own name and history. Some epigraph provided the name; piety and 
good faith added the history and the halo. 

By her revelations about the holy army of virgins at Cologne, Eliza- 
beth of Schonau, 34 born in 1123, would play a large part in filling in the 
gaps due to the lack of historical documents, and in explaining the pres- 
ence of the bones of adults, even of men, in what had been an ancient 
cemetery. “Des problemes puerils y trouvent des explications labo- 
rieuses, qui nous font sourire, mais visiblement contentaient la voyante 
et son entourage, comme elles devaient satisfaire les ecrivains et les artis- 
tes jusqu’a la fin du moyen-age”. 35 

Elizabeth enjoyed an extraordinary success. Lovers of legends 
pounced on her simple biographies, people drew their devotions from 
them and art was fashioned by them. 

Towards the end of the 12th century, an anonymous author started 
on the work of completing Elizabeth’s writings. 36 But his two books of 
Revelationes today seem to be a mixture of puerility, acrobatic devotion 
and parody. 

Following in the tracks of these “Revelations”, which were not 
completed, Crombach 37 made a census of the virgins who had made up 

32 Ibid., p.161. 

33 Ibid. 

34 Liber Revelationum seu Imaginationum S. ELISABETHAE SCHOENAUGIENSIS de SS. Ursulae et sociabus. 
AA.SS, cit., pp. 163-173. 

35 De TervareNT, La Ugende, op. cit., I, p.26. 

36 Revelationes seu Imaginationes B. HERMANNI Josephi canonici regularis Sieinfeldensis, de XI Millibus 
Virginum, AA.SS, cit., pp. 173-207. 

37 CROMBACH H., S. Ursula Vindicata, Coloniae Agrippinae 1647; cf. AA.SS, cit., note b, p.201. 


Ursula’s army and arrived at the number 9,816. The anonymous author 
had not hesitated to impose a name on all the bones in the cemetery or to 
assign them a role. 

In his Leggenda Aureal Jacopo da Voragine, as Elizabeth had al- 
ready done, would bring Ursula’s betrothed into the cortege of virgins, 
together with Pope Cyriacus (he never existed!) who had had to resign 
so that he could follow the virgins, and a whole suite of cardinals and 
bishops. Carpaccio’s brush would take up the narrative cycle of the 
Golden Legend and would depict it in nine large canvas paintings com- 
missioned by the “Scuola di S. Orsola” at San Zanipolo in Venice, that 
is by the Confraternity of St Ursula established at the church of Sts John 
and Paul. 

In spite of all the amplifications and the incongruities, all of them 
regrettable, in these legends, there is nothing to invite ridicule in the 
devotion to St Ursula and her companions when one thinks of the con- 
crete reality of the martyrdom of some young Christian girls, which 
forms the basis of the legend. 

c) Angela — Saint Ursula 

Among the “Lives of the Saints” which Giovanni Merici used to 
read to his family, and which Angela must have listened to with interest 
and then turned over in her mind as a child, it seems that the stories of 
Catherine of Alexandria and of Ursula were the ones which had im- 
pressed her most. 

We have already referred to the first. A number of factors could 
have contributed towards arousing the devotion to the second, begin- 
ning with Ursula’s great popularity, certainly equal to that of Catherine, 
but more spectacular and kept alive by frequent figurative representa- 
tions. The complexity of the legendary adventures and the imposing 
choir of eleven thousand virgins offered material for a whole series of 
narrative compositions. 

When she passed through Venice, Angela might have seen Carpac- 
cio’s paintings inspired by the Golden Legend, pictures which, against 
the elegant and sumptuous background of an enchanting Venice, tell a 
story closer to Renaissance literature than to medieval hagiography. 
Under her very eyes, Angela could have seen two Brescian paintings, the 
one by Antonio Vivarini in the church of S. Pietro in Oliveto, 59 and the 

38 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.I, 2.d. 

39 At present in the Diocesan Seminary. 


other by Moretto in the church of San Clemente, opposite the house of 
Agostino Gallo. 

Traditional iconography portrayed Ursula in the ermine and crown 
of royalty, with the arrow and the palm of martyrs, and the standard 
bearing the cross of a warrior; she could be seen, too, with the folds of 
her cloak sheltering her companions. These paintings, such as the fres- 
coes of Tommaso of Modena in the church of S. Margherita at Treviso 
and those of Vigo di Pieve di Cadore, were expressions of a cult which 
was becoming very widespread, especially in the Venetian and Lombard 
regions, thanks to the passage of German pilgrims to Rome. Office and 
Mass proper to the Virgins of Cologne also found their place in the offi- 
cial liturgy of other countries. 40 

Already by the 14th century, the Confraternity or School of St 
Ursula had been established in Venice. This was a sodality founded on 
religious and humanitarian grounds, perhaps after the example of the 
German “Navicula Sanctae Ursulae”, 41 which brought together people of 
every social class, including rulers, knights, ladies of rank, religious. 

But it is probably elsewhere that we must search for the reasons for 
Angela’s choice at that particular time when the legend had the blessings 
of history: the regal dignity of Ursula, her courage in facing the un- 
known in order to carry out God’s plans, her pilgrimage to Rome, that 
thrill of joy which runs through the whole story of her adventures, the 
defence of her virginity to the point of martyrdom, and above all per- 
haps, her role as captain at the head of this army of eleven thousand vir- 
gins, all this must have struck a deep corresponding and echoing note in 
Angela’s soul, and it would seem as if some of her spiritual attitudes 
were almost borrowed from the legend. 

Thus the regality of Ursula evoked the dignity of the virgins of the 
Company, called to the royal wedding-feast with the “Son of God” and 
destined one day to become “glorious queens in heaven”. 42 And perhaps 
Angela was reminded of the pilgrim she once was by the young girl who 
defied the high seas with her numerous cortege or who faced the uncer- 
tainties of the long pilgrimage to Rome. Angela’s audacity and her 
awareness of being entrusted with a mission from on high would con- 
verge together in the foundation of the Company, just as formerly a 
similar audacity and a similar awareness had led Ursula to gather round 
her thousands of virgins to make them spouses of Christ. A similar spir- 

40 For example, in the Missale Passaviense, printed at Venice in 1522; cf. AA.SS, cit., pp.282-283. 

41 Ibid., pp.293-298. 

42 R egola. Prologue. 


itual maternity attracted Angela towards this captain of virgins. On their 
part, the eleven thousand virgins experienced a most exalted life to- 
gether: “cor unum et anima una”; 43 at the news of their imminent mar- 
tyrdom “communis exsultatio facta est”; 44 they made their decisions 
“unanimi deliberatione”; 45 and their song resounded “pari coris concen- 
tu”. 46 Here, it seems, was a prefiguration of that “unite insieme” to 
which Angela returned so often, urging the unity which she longed for 
with all her heart. 

Even if its structure was secular, the Company gave the impression 
of being and really was an authentic community, made up of prayer, 47 of 
dialogue, 48 of service, 49 of mutual help, 50 of family spirit even in what had 
to be verified and evaluated, 51 a community guided by a unitary govern- 
ment. 52 

The joy and the enthusiasm often recalled in the legend also charac- 
terised Merician spirituality. It was against a background of heavenly joy 
that the eleven thousand virgins ended their earthly life: “O quale hac 
die in caelo factum est tripudium, qualis occursus supernorum civium? 
Quae exsultatio apostolorum? Quam communis gloria martyrum et sanc- 
tarum virginum de augmento ordinis sui gloriantium?” 53 

Angela would say in her 5th Counsel: “How much they should 
exult and rejoice, for a new crown of glory and joy is prepared in 
heaven, for each and every one of them!” and, in the Last Counsel, “You 
will have the protection of Our Lady, the Apostles, all the saints, the an- 
gels, and finally all heaven and all creation”. And in the Prologue to the 
Rule: “... and so we may enter with glory into the heavenly kingdom. 
Then there will be cause for great glory and triumph, both in heaven and 
on earth”. 

Let us leave the conclusion to Gabriele Cozzano in his Epistola : 
“Now, supposing there was nothing else to influence it, should not 
a name as attractive and noble as that of the Company of St Ursula in- 
duce any heart as hard as iron to long for this life? And will we ever find 
a congregation more worthy than that of St Ursula? Large in number, 

43 Passio “Regnante Domino”, n.8, in AA.SS, cit., p.159. 

44 Ibid., p.160. 

45 Ibid. 

46 Ibid. 

47 Kegola, Ch.VI. 

48 Testament o, 7th Legacy, R icordi, 4th Counsel; Cozzano, Dichiarasyone, cit. 

49 Kegola, Prologue; R icordi, 1st Counsel. 

50 Testamento, 8th Legacy; Kegola, Ch.XII. 

51 Testamento, 7th and 10th Legacies. 

52 Kegola, Ch.XII. 

53 Passio “Regnante Domino”, cit., in AA.SS, cit., p.161. 


royal in dignity, triumphant in victories, powerful in merits and divine 
in honours. Such is our Company and such it will be, at least internally. 
And those who are faithful, who make every effort to do what the 
Foundress has commanded, will become just as glorious. And so believe, 
let every one of you believe - and she will believe the truth - that she 
[Angela] did not give this name to the Company by chance, nor to 
ennoble it by calling it this, as happens in the world when one chooses 
important names or those of great saints for a child, either to adorn that 
person or out of devotion, or again in the hope or the desire that this 
child will grow in virtue by imitating the saint whose name has been 
given to him, or for all these things together or for other similar reasons. 
I repeat, this Company has not been named for such frivolous reasons. 
But this name has come from heaven, introduced through the force and 
power of the Holy Spirit. In this name a new grace from the Most High 
is promised to everyone who perseveres faithfully in this obedience. 
Promised also is that virtue of sanctity which was given to those eleven 
thousand virgins who obeyed Ursula’s will, or rather God’s voice 
through her, that virtue through which they overcame themselves and 
conquered death ”. 54 

Are these Cozzano’s personal reflections or are they the souvenir of 
conversations with the Foundress and of things she herself had confided 
to him? 

At the threshold where history and legend intermingle in proclaim- 
ing a unique message, Doneda 55 and Lombardi 56 interpret Angela’s 
choice as a homage to that army of intrepid virgins who had known how 
to fight to the point of death in the heroic defence of their virginity and 
as a witness to their faith, but they also see it as a programme of life. To 
this programme Angela would give the specific character of the virginal 
gift of self to God, involving the interior self-emptying of the mystic, 
the courageous fidelity of the martyr, the evangelisation of the world 
typical of the apostle and the participation in the work of salvation 
peculiar to Christ. 

54 D22, [f.964r-v]. 

55 Doneda, Vita, op.cit., p.77. 

56 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp. 100-101. 



a) The first virgins of the Companj 

Going back to the origins of the Company of St Ursula, Cozzano 
recalls those who had formed its base: “There were many virgins who 
were the first-fruits of the Holy Spirit in this fraternity ... The youngest 
were Simona, the daughters of Dolza Drusilla, Laura, Andriana, Pere- 
grina and others. There were also the Peschere sisters. Lady Chiara Gaf- 
furra. The eldest were Barbara, Chiara, Margarita, Maria. Among them 
was the oldest and the saintliest, the reverend Mother Angela”. 57 

Under Faino’s pen, this simple recollection of names would become 
a proper list, complete with Christian and family names. 

Gabriele Cozzano had simply recalled the virgins, going back in his 
mind to the joyful and exhilarating times right at the beginning, when 
Angela shone “like a sun” among them. Faino, however, apparently 
wanted to give them a definite identity. And so, looking through the 
names written in a register (perhaps the Libro Primo della Compagnia 
which we will be speaking about later) he made up his own list, taking 
the Christian names which Cozzano had indicated, irrespective of the 
family name which accompanied them in the register. The first list drawn 
up by Faino in his manuscript was later modified in the printed edition. 
The author reveals the method he had used in two notes in the margin of 
the manuscript list: 58 “It is believed that the names of the twelve virgins 
written opposite are probably those [but as we have already said, this is 
conjecture on Faino’s part] whom the Blessed Angela took with her for 
the visit and pilgrimage to the Sacro Monte of Varallo in the year 1532, 
when she went there a second time”. And again: “The surnames are not 
given in the aforesaid Libro [Cozzano’s Dichiarasfone della Bolla ], but they 
have been taken from the first Register which starts from when Angela 
first erected the Company, and in which are written the Christian and 
family names of the members and the division into districts, so that it is 
known in which ‘Colonelli’ of the City the members of the Company are 
to be found”. 

Cozzano had given the names of thirteen virgins; Faino, sometimes 

57 Cozzano, Dichiara^ione. D24, [f.974r]. 

58 Faino, Miscellanea , f. 167. Cf. also supra, Pt.II, Ch.V, 5. “Le contrascritte 12 Vergini si stima pro- 
babilmente che fossero quelle, che la B. Angela seco condusse alia visita et pellegrinaggio del Sacro 
Monte di Varallo nell’anno 1532, quando vi ando la seconda volta”. “Li cognomi non sono posti nel 
detto Libro, ma si sono tolti dal primo Registro che incomincia dal principio che la beata Angela 
eresse la Compagnia, nel quale sono notati i nomi et cognomi delle persone, et la divisione delle 
quadre, per distinguer le putte in Colonelli per la Citta”. 


distorting Cozzano’s information, reduced them to twelve, on the 
grounds that at the “Processo Nazari” Gallo had said: “there were four- 
teen of us 

Teresa Ledochowska has also studied the subject, by making a com- 
parison between the information given in Cozzano’s Dichiara^ione, in Fai- 
no’s manuscript and in the Secondo Libro Generate We are giving here 
the result of our own research, based on certain documents, some of 
which have been unknown up to now. 

We will take into consideration: 

- the Christian name recalled by Cozzano, 

- the Christian and family names or any other determining factor given 
by Faino in his manuscript, 

- the Christian and family names fixed by Faino in the printed edition, 
and this will be followed by the biographical information which we col- 
lected together. 

We are setting out these sets of three names in the same order as 
Cozzano listed the first virgins of the Company. 


Simona di Borno da Navi 
Simona Borni 

We find a Simona, maid-servant to Maria Avogrado without any 
further identification, in the 1537 act of Angela’s election and also in the 
1558 list of members which is to be found in the Secondo Libro GeneraleS 0 
This seems to be a list of names of the members of the re-united Com- 
pany, after the crisis which flared up following the Decree imposing the 
wearing of the cincture (as we will see in Pt.III, Ch.I.). In a notarial act 
of 1545, the one of the election of the procurators of the Company, a 
“Simona Morganti de Bornado” indeed is mentioned, and in some other 
acts of 1555 and 1556, there is mention of a “Simona quondam D. Jo- 
hannis Mariae de Bornato de Navis”, member of the Company. This is 
perhaps one and the same person, whose surname would become fixed 
later on as “Borni”, the name given her by Faino. 

” Ledochowska, Angela, op. cit., I, pp. 116-124. 

60 For this information and for the rest in this section we refer to the following sources: Angela’s act 
of election 1537, D6; Veronica Buzzi’s act of election, D26; Isabetta Prato’s, SLG, f.55v; for the 
1558 list, SLG, f.lOOr-v; notarial act of 1545, D27; notarial act of 1555, D28; notarial act of 1556, 
D29; notarial act of 31 May 1558, D30; notarial act of 31 July 1558, D31; notarial act of 1559, D33. 


Una putta di Dol^a Drusilla 
Catherina figlia della Dol%a 
Caterina Dolci 

Un’altra putta di Dol^a Drusilla 
Domenega figlia della Dol^a 
Domenica Dolci 

Two sisters, Caterina and Domenica, appear in the notarial act of 
Angela’s election; but these are the daughters of Antonio Gosio. In the 
1545 deed there is a “Catharina Antonii de Gotiis”; in the notarial acts of 
1555 and 1556 the two “de Gotiis” sisters appear together. But we did 
not succeed in identifying these with the daughters of Dolza Drusilla 
mentioned by Cozzano. 


This Laura is cited by Cozzano without any other information. 
Faino does not mention any Laura among the twelve Varallo pilgrims. 
Among those voting in 1537, we discovered a “Laura da Caino”, daugh- 
ter of Angelo who was a baker, and in the election of 1545 there is a 
“Laura magistri Anzoli Cinaleis”. Would these two “Lauras”, both 
“daughters of Angelo”, perhaps be the same person? 

On the other hand, there exists, in the 1558 list, a “Laura di Pi- 
scheri”, but we will be presenting her later, with her sister Paola. We 
have to wait until 1559 until another Laura appears in the list of those 
belonging to the Company, but her surname is Usupini. We did not find 
any other Laura. 


Andriana di Zanbelli 

She was one of those who elected Angela in 1537; she also partici- 
pated in the election of the procurators of the Company in 1545. On 
both occasions her name is given as “Andreana di mastro Natale di Za - 
belli”. She appears again, with the same name, in the notarial acts of 
1555-1556, together with her sister Giulia. They are both mentioned in 
Ginevra Luzzago’s will. 61 Ginevra left them the usufruct of a room “toto 
tempore earum vitae, et donee perseveraverint seu perseverabunt ad au- 

61 ASM, Fondo di Religione, registro n.223, Brescia S. Affra alias S. Salvatore ( La/eranensi ) , ff.66v- 
67r. D32. 


diendam Regulam praedictam, et recipienda divina officia et ministeria in 
dicta ecclesia Sanctae Affrae iuxta consuetum”. We dare not identify her 
with the one called “Andreana da Rumano” in the minutes of the elec- 
tion of Veronica Buzzi (1555) and that of Isabetta Prato (1572). 


Peregrina di Casali 
Peregrina Casali 

We discovered only one person with this name in the Secondo Libro 
Generate, a Peregrina who, at the 1555 chapter of election of Veronica 
Buzzi, is presented in her role as “colonella del Duomo”, and she votes 
for both herself and for her daughter Cecilia. But in a 1545 notarial act, a 
“Peregrina Petri de Cozalibus de Salodio” is mentioned, and another act, 
in 1559, speaks of a “Peregrina da Seniga”. We found no information 
about the family name of “Casali” or “Cazali” suggested by Faino. 

Una Peschera 
Paola di Pescheri 
Paula Peschiera 

Un’altra Peschera 
Laura di Pescheri 
Laura Peschiera 

Paola and Laura Peschiera are both included in the 1558 list of 
members. Paola will be present also at the 1572 election of Isabetta 
Prato, and will be elected “mistress” shortly afterwards. We found the 
“polizza d’estimo” of the two sisters for the year 1568: 62 Paola aged 55 
years, and Laura aged 52 years, daughters of the late Doctor Gianpiero 
Peschiera, were claiming their rights to legacies which were being con- 
tested by some close relatives. 

Chiara Gaffura 
Chiara Gaffurri 
Chiara Gafurri 

Chiara Gaffura also features in the list of the virgins in 1558, to- 
gether with her sister Taddea; they will both take part in the election of 
Isabetta Prato in 1572. 

Chiara and Taddea Gaffura (or Gaffurri) were the daughters of An- 
drea, 63 as is given in the “polizza d’estimo” drawn up for the 1548 tax- 

62 PE. n.103. Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.III, l.b. 

63 PE. n.62, anno 1548. 


returns. In this declaration, Andrea said that his age was 45 years; thus, 
in 1532 (that is, the year of the pilgrimage to Varallo), he would have 
been only 29 and Chiara just a little girl. Nor can she be identified with 
the “Clara quae habitat in domo Pauli de Angulo civis et habitatoris Bri- 
xiae”, who was elected “virgin of the government” in 1537, since An- 
drea’s daughter was still an adolescent at that time. 


Barbara di Fontani 
Barbara Fontani 

Doneda states that Angela had lived the last years of her life “in the 
company of a good maiden called Barbara Fontana, who survived her, 
although only for a short time”, and he adds a note: “There is proof 
of this in the books of the Company of St Ursula”. 64 It can be assumed 
that she was the daughter of the “mastro Gian Pietro Fontana” who had 
inherited the Office book belonging to Angela. We do not think she can 
be identified with the “Barbara de Monteclaro” who was elected “virgin 
of the government” at the 1537 chapter at which Gian Pietro Fontana 
participated precisely as a witness. It would not make much sense for the 
notary, after having identified him, to call his daughter by the name of 
Montichiari, her town of origin, instead of by her father’s surname or at 
least by his Christian name. 


Chiara da Martinengo 
Chiara da Martinengo 

It does not seem to us that this Chiara da Martinengo can be identi- 
fied with a hypothetical “Chiara di Martinengo” or “Chiara Martinen- 
go” 65 as she would have been called if she belonged to the noble Marti- 
nengo family. This other Chiara, about whom we know nothing, prob- 
ably originated from Martinengo. Furthermore, the eldest daughter of 
the twenty children of Ippolita Gambara and Cesare Martinengo the 
Magnificent, called Chiara, had been born 16 November 1499 and had 
died suddenly on 30 August 15 16. 66 

64 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.53 and p.142. “in compagnia di una buona vergine di nome Barbara 
Fontana, la quale a lei sopravisse, quantunque per breve tempo”; “Consta dai libri della Compagnia 
di S. Orsola”. 

65 T. LEDOCHOWSKA would seem to lean towards this conclusion, Angela, op. cit., I, p.122. We think 
we have discovered another line of enquiry; cf. infra, Pt.II, Ch.VlIl, 3. a. (TN: in Italian, the prepo- 
sition “di" usually indicates “belonging to”, and “da" “coming from”). 

66 GUERRINI, Una celebre Jamiglia lombarda. I Conti di Martinengo. Studi e ricerche genealogiche, Bre- 
scia, tipolitografia F.lli Geroldi, 1930, pp.415-416. 



Margarita Maria dell’Olmo 
Margarita dell’Olmo 

We did not find any trace of a Margarita dell’Olmo or Olmi in any 
of the documents which we know. We do know that a certain “Marga- 
rita da Brescia” was elected “virgin of the government” in 1537, and she 
is perhaps the same whom we will meet in 1555 as “colonella” of St Afra, 
at the election of Veronica Buzzi. 


Maria Bertoletti 

Among those who elected Angela in 1537, we know a Maria, 
daughter of Bertolino da Leno; we will meet her later as “colonella” of 
S. Faustino. 

“Maria, Scholastica et Lucretia sorores, filiae magistri Bertolini de 
Garginis [Garginis?]” figure in the notarial act of 1545 and also in the act 
of Veronica Buzzi’s election, “D. Maria da Leno colonella di S. Faustino, 
et D. Scholastica et D. Lucretia tutte trei sorelle”. Twice, therefore, it is 
stated that three sisters are involved, and this helps us to correct the er- 
ror contained in the 1558 list, in the Secondo Libro Generate , where Scho- 
lastica is given as the daughter of Maria. 67 

But we did not find any Bertoletti. Once again it could be a case of 
a family name being adapted, as used to happen at that period and as we 
have already pointed out elsewhere. 

Drusilla di Zinelli 
Dorosilla Zinelli 

No member of the Company seems to us to have carried this name. 
We found only a “Derusiana Cinalia”, daughter of Marc’Antonio, 
among the 1537 electors. In the notarial act of 1545 there is a “Damisella 
quondam magistri Marc’Antonio de Cinaliis”. 

b) 25 November 1535 

After being prepared by meetings 68 and by spiritual formation for a 
few years, the little group which Angela had probably quite often gath- 

67 SLG, f.lOOv. 

68 Faino, who described the pictures in the oratory of Isabetta Prato, gave the date there as 2 De- 
cember 1533. Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.Vl, 2. 


ered round her in the oratory of Isabetta Prato, was admitted to the 
Company. There were twenty-eight of them, but we cannot say what 
percentage they represented with regard to the rest of the aspirants who 
were undergoing formation, nor can we say from which social back- 
ground they came. 

We have already pointed out why Angela had chosen 25 November: 
it was the feast of the martyr-saint Catherine of Alexandria, upon whose 
finger Christ himself had slipped the wedding-ring, and it was also the 
anniversary of her return to Brescia after the pilgrimage to the Holy 

Doneda writes: “It has not emerged whether any other ceremonial 
was used, apart from writing their names under the above-mentioned 
date in a small book specially prepared for this purpose, and which still 
exists today”. And he adds in a note: “A small book, in quarto format, is 
kept in the Archives of the Company; it has a white cardboard cover and 
on the outside there is the following inscription: 

1555, 25th Day of November. 

In this little book are inscribed all the virgins who belong to the Company of 
Saint Ursula; they meet every Friday for Holy Communion, and every last Satur- 
day to listen to the reading of the Holy Rule called of Saint Ursula. In the said 
book are inscribed, in the following manner, the names of all the sisters 
who entered the Company in 1535, 1536, 1537 and 1538: 

1535, 25th Day of November. 

The Reverend Mother Sister Angela. 

This is the Blessed Foundress, and her name is followed by 28 oth- 
ers. The same method is used for the next three years: 

1536. 25th Day of November, etc.” A 

Nothing is said about where the ceremony took place, whether it 
was in the oratory of the Cathedral square or at St Afra. Doneda has 

69 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.76 and p.150. “Nell’Archivio della Compagnia si conserva un libretto in 
forma di quarto coperto di cartone bianco, che ha di fuori questa iscrizione: 

1535. die 25 Novembris. 

Questo si e to libretto dove sono scrite tute le Virgene, quale se domanda la compagnia de Santa Ursula, dove se 
congregano bogni venerdi del mese a la Santa Comunione, e hogni ultima domenicha del mese a scoltar a les^ere la 
Santa Kegola intitulata a Santa Ursula. Nel detto libretto sono descritte tutte le consorelle della Com- 
pagnia, che entrarono in essa gli anni 1535, 1536, 1537 and 1538, nella seguente maniera, cioe: 

1535. Die 25 Novembris. 

Da R da. Madre Suor Angela. 

Questa e la Beata Fondatrice, dopo la quale ne seguono altre al numero di 28, e lo stesso metodo 
continua negli altri tre anni. 

1536. Die 25 Novembris. ecP 


no doubt: it was in the parish church near which Angela was living and 
where Father Serafmo da Bologna, Canon of the Lateran, 70 her confes- 
sor, had his lodging. Faino, on the other hand, thought that the act of 
admission to the Company had taken place in Isabetta Prato’s oratory. 71 
We did not discover any documentation on the subject. 

There is, however, no doubt at all about the date, even though, 
among ancient authors and even here and there in the pages of the Proc- 
esses, one frequently finds the year 1537 given as the foundation date of 
the Company. This fact is easily explained if it is remembered that the 
first General Chapter had taken place in that year, with the aim of elect- 
ing a legal representative, with the right to act on behalf of the Com- 
pany. On 18 March 1537, Angela had been elected mother, minister and 
treasurer for life, by unanimous voice: “et viva voce et nemine discre- 

The minutes of this first capitular assembly 72 record the names of 
those present and of those elected to the various offices. 

It would be interesting to be able to identify at least some of the 
seventy-five virgins present, but this would require a prolonged search 
among the “polizze d’estimo”. We have already met above Maria, the 
daughter of Bertolino da Leno; we recognise there Flora, Girolamo Pa- 
tengola’s servant-girl, mentioned earlier, who was 43 years old in 1537. 73 
We also meet there the servant or servants of certain personalities of the 
aristocratic or political world: Giovanni Chizzola, Girolamo Patengola, 
Tomaso Gavardo, Maria Avogadro and Lucrezia Luzzago. 

The social background of the virgins is not always indicated; but 
when it is given in the notarial act, the cross-section reveals quite a va- 
riety of origin: five daughters of a goldsmith and one daughter of a 
tradesman in spices and perfumes; daughters of bakers and small farm- 
ers; the daughter of a ser Daniele Fruscato, probably a man of law, and 
also the sister of the Reverend Don Bernardino Grossi. And all “united 
and in harmony amongst themselves, all of one will and living in obedi- 
ence to the Rule, for all is there”. 74 

The foundation seems to come alive again in Romanino’s splendid 
painting, “The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria”, which 
today is in the Brooks Memorial Gallery at Memphis (Tennessee, USA), 

70 Ibid., p.75. 

71 Faino, Vila, op. cit., p.48. 

72 D6. 

73 PE. n.225, Patengola Girolamo, 1534. 

74 R icordi, 5th Counsel. 


Kress collection, and which belonged formerly to the Maffei collection 
at Brescia. It measures 153 x 207.7cm. 

Giovanni Vezzoli 75 thinks that it had a deliberate commemorative 
purpose: the mystic marriage of the Saint celebrated on 25 November 
would recall the date of the foundation of the Company. 

Catherine, kneeling, is receiving the ring on her finger from the 
Child Jesus, held on the knees of the Madonna who is in the centre of 
the picture. According to the same Vezzoli, St Lawrence, on the left, 
could well be the portrait of Lorenzo Muzio, who had approved the 
Rule on 8 August 1536. On the right, behind the Madonna, stands St 
Ursula holding her white standard with the cross, while Angela, dressed 
as a Franciscan tertiary, is kneeling, with her hands joined together. 

Rossana Bossaglia 76 thinks that this picture must have been painted 
during the central period of Gerolamo da Romano, in other words 
about 1530, “because of the silvery reflection on the folds of the dresses, 
and by the way the Saint is portrayed ... and the Virgin as well, with a 
finesse, reminiscent of Cranach, all of which points to it still belonging 
to the Cremonese period. The headdress of the Virgin, a ridiculous but 
magnificent turban which seems to come straight out of Bramantino, 
and the nocturnal atmosphere, full of luminous reflections, make this 
painting one on its own in Romanino’s career. If we think we can see 
Salvoldo’s influence in the taste for the nocturnal shades, we would have 
to place the painting much later, but then it would be difficult to know 
where to place it. Madame Ferrari, Romanino p.47, is inclined towards a 
date later than 1535, taking into consideration that the presence of the 
figures of St Angela Merici and St Ursula, both together on the right, 
is explained by the foundation of the Order of the Ursulines of St 
Angela which was in 1535. This is a very valid argument providing, 
however, that these two figures, rather decadent in style and pushed 
into a corner of the composition, were painted at the same time as the 

75 Giovanni Vezzoli, lncontri di S. Angela Merici con l' arte, in: Societa per la storia della Chiesa a 
Brescia. “Fonti e Studi n.5”, Studi in onore di Luigi Fossati, Brescia, novembre 1974, pp.394-396. 

76 Rossana Bossaglia, La pittura del Cinquecento: i maggiori e i loro scoiari , in Storia di Brescia, op. cit., 
pp.1052-1053. “... per l’argenteo dispiegarsi dei panni e per la tipologia della Santa... e infine per 
quella della Vergine, di finezza cranachiana, e quindi ancora inserita nella cerchia cremonese. 11 
copricapo della Vergine, un assurdo magnifico turbante che sembra tirato fuori dal Bramantino, e 
l’atmosfera notturna, piena di luministici riflessi, isolano 1’opera nell’iter del Nostro. Se nel gusto del 
notturno volessimo ravvisare un certo savoldismo, dovremmo portare il quadro assai avanti nel 
tempo, quando pero non troveremmo un posto adeguato ove collocarlo. La Ferrari, Romanino p.47, 
pensa a una datazione oltre il 1535 considerando che le figure di S. Angela Merici e S. Orsola appai- 
ate sulla destra si spiegano con la fondazione dell’Ordine delle Orsoline di S. Angela che e del 1535. 
Argomento assai valido; sempre che, pero, le due figure, di qualita piuttosto scadente e stipate in un 
angolo della composizione, siano state dipinte in una con le altre. Ci atterremmo percio ‘alia data- 
zione verso il ’30’, proposta dal Longhi”. 


others. We are inclined, therefore, to support Longhi’s dating of ‘about 
1530’”. 77 

As for ourselves, we agree with the view expressed by Giovanni 
Vezzoli: “It is not easy to subscribe to such a suggestion: the two figures 
form an integral part of the whole composition, a perfect cohesiveness 
with the rest by the play of light, by the gradual increase of the volumes 
and light with regard to the Virgin’s mantle. The banner is typical of 
Romanino, as indeed is the figure of Saint Ursula.... It is certainly a pic- 
ture carried out at the request of someone who had an important role in 
the Company and therefore wanted to record its foundation in such a 
singular fashion”. 78 

The catalogue of the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts at 
London (25 November 1983-11 March 1984) is of the same opinion, giv- 
ing the date of the painting as 1535, or a little later. It points out that 
“the composed, dignified figures, harmoniously arranged in a row, are 
uncharacteristic of Romanino and make this work exceptional in his 
oeuvre ; there is no heightened drama or movement, but instead a strong 
sense of religious intimacy”. 79 

Angela is easily recognisable by those who know Moretto’s portrait 
of her after her death: the thin face with high cheek-bones, prominent 
nose, pronounced lower lip. Thus, the portrait appears to be very close 
to a real model, in no way idealised. The habit is the one which the 
women of the Third Order of St Francis used to wear at that time. The 
Madonna’s silky garment seems to absorb all the light of the picture 
and to spread out like a wedding mantle, linking together the three vir- 
gins who are all gazing at Christ, while Lawrence is enfolded in the 
shadow. In the background, Brescia and its castle are plunged in the 
darkness of the night. 

The APC, in 1758, took two other pictures into consideration, both 
of which could also have been intended to commemorate 25 November 
1535, although they are on a much smaller scale and are notably of an 
inferior quality from the artistic point of view. The first disappeared at 

77 For the author mentioned, Maria Luisa Fhrrari, II Romanino, Milan 1962. 

78 Giovanni Vezzoli, Incontri, op. cit., p.395. “Non e agevole accedere a tale sospetto: le due figure 
sono inserite nel quadro, con assoluto rispetto della compagine dcH’insieme, con perfetta coerenza 
con il resto per la luce, per la crescita graduale dei volumi e del lume rispetto al manto della Vergine. 
II vessillo e tipicamente romaniano, come romaniana e la figura di sant’Orsola... Si tratta certo 
d’un quadro, fatto dipingere da persona che aveva gran parte nella Compagnia e percio anche gran 
desiderio di ricordarne la fondazione con un documento cost singolare”. 

79 The Genius of Venice 1500-1600, edited by Jane Martineau and Charles Hope, Royal Academy 
of Arts, London 1983, Catalogue published in association with Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 



the time of the bombing of the church of St Afra during the Second 
World War. Fortunately the photographic plate of it is kept in the Pina- 
coteca Tosio-Martinengo of Brescia. It represents (we are quoting the in- 
scription at the bottom of the picture and which was given by the notary 
in the APC) “La B. Agela Brisciana vergine, fondatrice della nova cogre- 
gatioe de vergine, detta la Copagnia di S. Orsola”. 80 Seated in the midst 
of six virgins, three on each side, Angela is pointing out to them the Ber- 
nardine monogram of IHS and is pronouncing the words “Hie est amor 
meus”. The notary Angelo Facconi says that the virgins are “all dressed 
modestly in secular clothes, which are either black or dark greyish-beige 
in colour. But their little cap and shawl are all uniform, namely of white 
material and similar in style to what the Ursulines of this city are wearing 
at present”. The expert Savanni points out that the veil of the virgins 
“has the form of the head-veils which the Ursulines of Brescia are wear- 
ing even today”. Reproductions of this picture can still be seen in Vol.II 
of the Storia di Brescia 81 , and in Merician literary publications varying in 
value and in importance. 

When the picture was submitted during the process to the expertise 
of Francesco Monti, he gave the following opinion: “It is badly exe- 
cuted, especially from the point of view of design, and proves that the 
painter was third-rate”. 

Expressing himself even more freely, the art-expert Francesco Sa- 
vanni gave this judgment: “It is certainly an old work, and has been 
done by a painter of little talent, who has tried to conceal his lack of skill 
by imitating the style of great painters. In the figures of Blessed Angela 
and the young girls he has aped Romanino, and in the two angels he 
seems to have copied Raphael’s style”. 

As for the date, Monti judged it to be 1540, “which is the year indi- 
cated in black colour on a seat and is by the hand of whoever has done 
the picture”. Francesco Savanni just confined himself to pointing out the 
written date, but did not say anything about the date of the work. 

We are publishing the notary’s description in D36, in the section 
connected with the pictures which were in the oratory of the Company 
of St Ursula, an oratory adjoining the church of the same title in the 
Santa Croce district (today Via Moretto). 

The second painting was in the church of St Ursula; we are giving 
the description of it in the same D36, in the appropriate section. 

80 We wanted to keep the abbreviations as used by the notary and which can still be seen in the 
photographs of the painting, but an engraving of the same picture has written them in full. Cf. D36. 

81 Storia di Brescia, op. cit., II, p.456. 


This is what the notary Facconi says about it: it represents the 

Blessed dressed in the usual habit of a Franciscan Tertiary; she is sitting 
in the midst of nine virgins, who are likewise seated, dressed in secular 
but modest clothes. Angela herself, and six of the said virgins, are each 
holding a book in the hand and it looks as if she is in the act of giving 
this pious assembly some spiritual advice. Above the head of blessed An- 
gela, one can see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, surrounded by 
rays and shining lights. On one of the seats there is this inscription: ‘La 
B. Madre Angela apre la sua Regola et fonda la Compagnia nel giorno di 
S.ta Catterina. MDXXXV’”. 

As to the art-expert Francesco Monti, he says: “In the top row of all 
these pictures, the one nearest to the sanctuary shows Blessed Angela 
dressed as a Franciscan Tertiary, sitting in the midst of nine young girls 
all modestly dressed, but in secular clothes, who likewise are seated. She 
herself, and six of the young girls, are each holding a book in the hand, 
and she is in the act of talking and they of listening. At the top of the 
picture, above the head of the Blessed, is depicted the dove, symbol of 
the Holy Spirit, surrounded by light, rays and clouds. In addition to the 
Franciscan habit, I can recognise the features of Bl. Angela in the central 
figure, and for this reason I hold it for certain that this is her image. 
Among the pictures in this church, this is the most deplorable one from 
the artistic point of view, and it seems to me that there is no longer any 
other painting by this artist. All the painting is by the same hand; if any- 
thing had been added to it later, I would be able to tell, because in such 
a case the unity of parts which we see here could never have been 

And here is the expert opinion of Francesco Savanni: “In the upper 
row, the painting nearest to the sanctuary is the work of a very mediocre 
painter, one who is not very well known to me, but who seems to me to 
belong to the same period as the others . 82 In this picture Blessed Angela 
is seen seated in the middle of nine young secular women, to whom she 
appears to be speaking, a book in her hand. Above her head one can see 
the Holy Spirit in the figure of a dove, which is spreading shafts and rays 
of light among the clouds. Looking at her physiognomy and her habit 
of the Third Order of St Francis, and also at the inscription painted on a 
seat, I am certain that it is Blessed Angela”. 

This “inscription painted on a seat” is to be seen again today 
precisely in a painting at Bagnolo Mella, which develops the same theme: 

82 The experts attribute these pictures to the period 1650-1700. We know that they were painted 
about 1670-1671. Cf. infra, Pt.III, Ch.IV, 2.b 


Angela, mother and mistress, among eight virgins, and above her head 
the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. It is either a “remake”, or we have 
here that very same picture, so damaged, though, as to make it difficult, 
for whoever restored it, to discover the original design. 

As for recognising the physiognomy of Blessed Angela, the two ex- 
perts, who were speaking in 1758, were clearly taking as their guide the 
traditional features in earlier representations, modelled on Moretto’s por- 
trait of Angela after her death and on the one on the wooden board of 
the tomb. 


Chapter VIII 


The foundation of the Company was a venture which brought An- 
gela face to face with difficulties of a practical nature; in other words, she 
had to find the best way of helping her daughters live out their consecra- 
tion to God while remaining in the world, and to do this until the end of 
their days. 

But it was perhaps even more difficult to surmount the difficulties 
of a psychological nature. People were accustomed to seeing consecrated 
souls only in a religious habit and behind the grille of the monastic en- 
closure, while members of the Third Orders were looked upon as being 
linked with a first Order, masculine, and to a second Order, feminine. 
The virgins of the Company were not religious, nor were they supported 
by a masculine Order. Nor were they the simple associates of some pious 
devotional confraternity. Thus, they could have felt a certain malaise, 
not quite knowing where they fitted into the Church. 

Public opinion, and above all the members of the Company them- 
selves, needed to have clear ideas on the subject. Among other things, 
they needed to know that, although remaining in the world, these vir- 
gins no longer belonged to the world; although they were each living at 
home, they were not, however, isolated from one another because their 
common rule of life established them in an organic “togetherness” which 
was unique, autonomous, well supported by proper structures and well 
protected by the awareness that they shared a common spiritual experi- 

Through the analysis of various documents, some already known 
and others not, we have brought out the main lines of the original de- 
sign conceived by Angela for the persons in charge in the Company. 
While throwing some light on their tasks, we have also been able to add 
some biographical details which have enabled us to fit into a concrete 
and historically based setting certain members of the government up to 
now known only by name. 



In order to guide her disciples in this new form of life, to make it 
clear to them how it would be carried out, and to set before them a spir- 
ituality, Angela dictated the Regola for all the members of the Company, 
the Ricordi for the “colonelle” (members of the Company and immediate 
district superiors), the Testamento (or Legati) for the high-born “ma- 
trons”, otherwise known as “lady-governors” (that is, a type of major 
superior, but although they had a leading role in the Company, they 
were not “members” of it). 

The Regola constituted the carrying-structure of the Company, the 
one path that each and every sister would have to follow, each one per- 
sonally responsible and everyone together, if they wanted to persevere 
and carry out their vocation to its fulfilment. 1 

The Merician Regola is certainly not a “rough draft”, as is stated by 
Luigi Rinaldini, 2 but on the contrary a complete document. 3 It includes 
in fact: the clear title of the Company, the conditions for entry (including 
liberty of choice), the minimum age for entry, the guide-lines regarding 
the way the virgins must dress and of their “contact with the world”, the 
practical points about penance, liturgical and private prayer, the way of 
living the evangelical counsels, and a whole chapter on the composition 
and the functions of government. The entire work, which clearly bears 
the imprint of its time, is permeated by Angela’s great wisdom and by a 
deep realism. 

Thus, it is surprising the way Rinaldini speaks about it, when he 
writes: “The Regola consists of a Prologue and ten chapters, all of a 
spiritual nature, and an eleventh chapter, entitled ‘Government’, almost 
entirely concerned with economic and organisational matters. This 
particular chapter, although only embryonic, makes the Company very 
similar to one of those numerous pious lay-associations, where 
administrative preoccupation is an overriding concern and where, 
consequently, the contribution of competent and influential persons in 
this field is of the utmost importance”. 4 

1 Kegola , Prologue. 

2 Rinaldini. Edi^ione anastatica, op. cit., p.8 and passim. 

5 We are referring to D3, where Turlino’s printed edition is published opposite the Trivulzian ms. 

4 Rinaldini, Edi^ione anastatica, op.cit., pp.289-290. “... risulta composta da un Proemio e di dieci 
capi tutti di carattere spirituale e di un XI capo, intitolato ‘Del Governo’ di carattere pressoche 
interamente economico, organizzativo, nella sua embrionalita tale tuttavia da far assomigliare la 
Compagnia ad una delle tante opere pie di carattere laicale, ove prevale la preoccupazione ammini- 
strativa e quindi l’apporto di persone competenti e influenti in tale campo”. The composition of the 
Kegola into a prologue and eleven chapters is explained on pages 2 1-22 by Rinaldini himself, who re- 


It is true that the evangelical counsels were not set down in the ju- 
ridical form which they later were to assume; the members of the Com- 
pany, in actual fact, would not have had to pronounce the religious 
vows. But hagiography is full of the figures of women, and even of very 
young girls, who had taken the vow of virginity and had consecrated 
themselves to God, turning down any idea of marriage and remaining 
faithful to their promise, sometimes even to the point of martyrdom. 
Thus, it is reasonable to hold the view that, from the very beginning of 
the Company, some of the members would have wanted to make this 
vow in private. Such a step, though, would have been a free, personal 
choice, not an institutional act. 

But what the R egola demanded, and from everyone, was the firm re- 
solve to persevere in the state of perfect chastity. It was only after Cardi- 
nal Borromeo had given permission to the virgins of the Company 
which he himself had set up in Milan to make the vow of chastity in 
public, that those of Brescia asked if they could do the same . 5 But this 
was certainly not the general practice, and even less a factor of discrimi- 
nation within the Company. 

What could escape notice on a first reading is the elevated spiritu- 
ality which permeates the R egola, and also the fact that the other two Me- 
rician Writings, even though they are written from a different angle ac- 
cording to the different categories of people to whom they are ad- 
dressed, provide the necessary clarification and appropriate interpreta- 
tion of the normative contents of the Regola. Thus, for example, in the 
chapter on the Mass, the recommendation “not to spend too much time 
in churches” could easily be explained by certain practices, very general 
in those days, whereby churches were changed into not very edifying 

fers to “the edition printed in 1582 and confirmed by St Charles”. With regard to the “preceding 
copies” to which he draws attention on p.26, he cites “the untraceable original” and “the copy 
recopied into the ‘secondo libro bollato’, ordered in 1546, but probably carried out only in 1572, 
and the one which was printed by Damiano Turlino It is a fact that the original is lost today. But 
we think it is our duty to make clear that there has only ever been one “libro bollato”, that of 1546, 
lost from time immemorial and about which, up to the present, nothing whatsoever has been 
discovered, not even a description. There does exist, on the other hand, the Secondo Libro Genera/e, 
dating from 1572, into which the Merician Writings were recopied, albeit with the errors which we 
have already pointed out in Pt.l, Ch.I, 3.c. We draw attention to the article by TERESA Led6- 
CHOWSKA, La Regola del 1582 pud esprimere in maniera assoluta lo spirito originate della Compagnia di 
Sant'Orsola e il pensiero di Sant' Angela? in “Brixia Sacra”, anno VI, n.5-6, Settembre-Dicembre 1971. 
This article, however, is not enough to refute all the errors and confusion in Rinaldini’s volume. 

5 In the Regola della Compagnia di Santa Orsola , printed at Milan in 1567, it says in Ch.VllI: “... in the 
case that someone wants to make the vow of virginity, she should not be in a hurry to do it ... but 
first of all she should consult her confessor and the prior general ...”. And Lombardi says that 
21 January 1568 was the first time that some virgins took the vow of chastity, with the consent of 
the bishop of Brescia, Domenico Bollani. Cf. Vita, op. cit., pp.204-205. 


meeting-places and places where various business activities were carried 
on. 6 But it takes on its real meaning in the 7th Counsel, where Angela 
makes this recommendation to the “colonelle”: “Restrain your daughters 
especially from familiarity with young men, and other men too, even if 
they are spiritual, because too close a spiritual familiarity with men 
nearly always degenerates into carnal familiarity”. It is not just a 
question of avoiding disedifying practices, as the R egola could lead one 
to believe, but of preserving that integrity, that virginity of spirit which 
is the essence of the nuptial gift that the virgin offers to Christ as a re- 
sponse of love to his overture of love. 

Herein lies the heart of Angela Merici’s message: Christ has taken 
the first step towards her by his initiative of love; he is the “Lover”. An- 
gela calls him this three times in her Writings: “my Lover, or rather, the 
Lover of each one of us”, “my Lover, or rather ours”, “the Lover of us 
all”, he, the “gentle, loving Spouse, Jesus Christ”. 7 

The specific note of Angela’s spirituality would be the contempla- • 
tion of this mystery of Christ-Spouse, in the loving tension of one’s own 
being and acting, reaching out towards him. 

To make this mystery of Christ-Spouse present in the Church, to 
give witness to it in the world by one’s life and by one’s word, this 
would be the charism which Angela would bequeath to her daughters so 
that they might keep it alive in the centuries to come. 

We would like here to let a theologian, Father Valentino Macca, 
speak on the subject: “In the climate of renewal in the Church of her 
day, Angela lived out in her own life, in an extraordinary way, the mys- 
tery of the Church as ‘Spouse’. It is this which formed the axis of her 
thought and her way of acting, the most striking note of her experience, 
of her spirituality, of her maternity as a foundress. This, at least, is what 
emerges with the utmost certainty from the Regola, the Ricordi, the Le- 
gati, the authentic mirror of her soul and the revelation of her way of 
‘feeling’ Christ, of ‘welcoming’ Christ, of ‘responding’ to Christ, ‘our 
gentle, loving Spouse, Jesus Christ’. {Rule, Ch.XII). 

6 TACCHl Venturi, SJ, Storia, op. cit. , Parte I, pp.201-214. Even during the liturgical celebrations, 
there was no lack of irreverent behaviour, and this bad custom continued over the years, so much so 
that two bishops, Ferretti and Duranti, felt obliged to include in the Constitutions which they pro- 
mulgated for the diocese of Brescia, a chapter entitled: “De non vagando tempore divinorum offi- 
ciorum in Ecclesiis”. In it they warned the people to avoid unbecoming behaviour under pain of 
excommunication. I.P. FERRKTTUM, Constitutions et hdicta, op. cit., cap.XXXXV, p.[71]; B.Vat, 
Racc.I.IV.2177. int.3. Durante card. Duranti, Constitutions, Brixiae, apud Ludovicum Britanni- 
cum, A.D.MDLII, f.[l lr-v], BQ, Cinquecentine, E.137.m.l. 

7 Ricordi, 5th and Last Counsels; Testamento, Last Legacy. D4, D5. See also CozzANO, Epistola D22 
[f.961v]; R egola, Chapter on Government. 


“Within the path of the vocation to virginity, the ‘nuptial’ spiritu- 
ality starts from the theological conviction that the initiative comes from 
the ‘Lover’ (Last Counsel ; Last Legacy), who ‘chooses’ and ‘calls’ ‘to be 
the true and chaste brides’ of the Lord (Rule, Prologue). It is a great 
grace and dignity (cf. Rule, Prologue) which demands a corresponding 
love. The requirements of the Rule, with its climate of courageous and 
joyful asceticism, are directed towards a mysticism which, by abandon- 
ing the virgin to the action of the Spirit, wants to help her to ‘please 
Jesus Christ, [her] Spouse, as much as possible’ (4th Legacy). In this way 
he becomes the ‘All’ of the spouse, according to a remarkable text of the 
Rule (cf. Ch.XI). In this way alone does Christ become ‘the only treasure’ 
of the virgin, that is her ‘Love’ (cf. 5th Counsel). In Angela’s eyes, it is 
the only way that the virgin can live to the full her nuptial fidelity and 
‘give honour to Jesus Christ to whom she has promised her virginity 
and her whole life’ (cf. 5th Counsel). 

“It is the fidelity of the unitive love by which the virgin, like the 
Church and with her, is ‘holy, without speck or wrinkle or anything like 
that’, for ever stretching out towards the colloquy-communion, the echo 
of which has been transmitted to us in the last words of Revelation, in 
the dialogue between the Spirit of Jesus and the Beloved: ‘Come’. 

“It is the fidelity of the meeting which, in faith and love, keeps the 
virgin continually stretching forward towards the ‘resplendent face’ of 
the Lover, because he and he alone is her ‘life and hope’, and in his ‘di- 
vine love’, as in a ‘consuming furnace’, she longs for him to ‘consume’ 
(cf. Rule VI) all that she is and all that she possesses”. 8 

And from this nuptial relationship with Christ, lived fully, con- 
sciously and faithfully, proceeds the grace of a spiritual motherhood 
which Ursulines must exercise, following the example of their first 
mother, by the witness of their lives and by the ministry of the word. 
“Spouse” and “mother”, in the image of the Church and in the likeness 
of Angela, such is the identity of the Ursuline, therefore, whether she is 
religious or secular. 

But let us return to the Rule. 

The key to understanding the Company - and it is also the keystone 
to it — is to be found, it seems to us, in the Prologue to the R egola\ it is 
synthesized in the opening lines which the Foundress addresses to her 
daughters: “'God - has granted you the grace - of withdrawing you from the 
darkness of this wretched world — and of calling you together - to serve his divine 
Majesty” . 

8 From a conference given at Brescia on 11 February 1985. 


This “together” would be their strength. And then, in order to 
build up and to train her daughters in a real “awareness of the Institute”, 
Angela seeks to ensure a close sense of unity at the bottom, a good rap- 
port between the two groups at the top, and close links between the top 
and the bottom. 

To help those at the bottom to acquire the sense of belonging to a 
really organised body, Angela gives it the name of “Company”; she 
makes it clear that the Rule is the path along which they must all walk 
together; she exhorts them to embrace it “with one will ”, 9 she fixes gen- 
eral meetings. She arranges, for example, for “a spiritual director ... for 
all” to be elected in view of the general communion every first Friday 
which will bring them together in a communal celebration . 10 

In the chapter on government, Angela even suggests some commu- 
nitarian structures: if a sister (and this expression conjures up in itself a 
family bond) is left alone in life, then another sister must be willing to 
take her into her house and the Company must come to her aid finan- 
cially. But if it should happen that some sisters, even if there are only 
two, are left without support in life or have difficulty in finding accom- 
modation, then the Company must find a house for them and even pro- 
vide material aid, thereby giving concrete witness to the fact that the 
member belongs to the whole body, and to the responsibility of the 
whole body towards the individual. When the older sisters can no longer 
support themselves, they will be helped and looked after “as befits true 
spouses of Jesus”, and the sick will be visited and cared for, day and 
night if it is necessary. The sister, in her turn, at the end of her life will 
“make a bequest to the Company as a token of love and charity towards 
the sisters”. 

Even by themselves these norms would suffice to give a community 
dimension to the life of the Company; the chapter on government ends, 
moreover, with an exterior demonstration not devoid of a certain sym- 
bolism: when a sister dies “all the others in their charity will accompany 
her to her burial place, walking two by two, each carrying a candle”. 

But it is in the R icordi and the Testamento that one finds the images 
of the family, the vine, the mighty fortress and impregnable tower, all 
applied to the Company. As a matter of fact, it is to the members of the 
government that Angela seems to entrust the fraternal communion 
among the virgins as a kind of family possession, to be built up and pro- 

9 R egola. Prologue. Unless indicated otherwise, the quotations and references are taken from the 
text of D2. 

10 Ibid., Ch.VllI. 


tected. The latter are charged with putting this communion into effect, 
into living it; the former, into safeguarding it: “So be on your guard and 
take special care that they are united in heart and will, as we read of the 
Apostles and other Christians of the early Church”. 11 

Just as wise is the recommendation to organise frequent meetings 
among the “daughters”, with someone who can give “a short sermon” 
to them: “In this way they will meet together as loving sisters, talking 
over spiritual things together, thus giving joy and encouragement to 
each other, and this will benefit them greatly”. 12 It is this fraternal “to- 
getherness” which helps to keep the heart undivided. 

It is this witness of fraternal love which builds up the mystical body 
of Christ, hence Angela’s insistence: “And on no account must you allow 
these seeds [of discord] to grow in the Company, for it would be an in- 
fection of bad example which would spread throughout the town and 
beyond”. Hence also a warning with a prophetic note, almost as if she 
wanted to prevent the tensions which later on would lead to divisions 
and rivalry within the Merician family: “There will be no other sign that 
you are living in the Lord’s favour save that of loving one another and 
being united together ... Thus mutual love and harmony between you 
are a sure sign that you are on the right path and pleasing to God. So, 
dear mothers and sisters, be watchful, because the devil will attack you 
especially in this matter under the guise of good”. 13 

All these recommendations to the members of the government are 
going to have direct or indirect effects on those below. But there are 
other norms and counsels which directly concern the two governing 
bodies, namely the “matrons” and the “colonelle”, because it is from 
these that the structures take their strength and orientation. 

Angela recommends to the “colonelle”: “Be obedient to the lady- 
governors whom I am leaving behind in my place, because that is right. 
... For in obeying them you obey me, and in obeying me you obey Jesus 
Christ”. 14 

The strong union between the members in authority is the guar- 
antee of that unity of government conducive to the unity of the base. 
With regard to the level of practical applications, we must draw special 
attention to the council meeting of the two groups united together, “ma- 
trons” and “colonelle”, as is indicated in the 7th Legacy. It must take 

11 Testamento , 10th Legacy. 

12 Ibid., 8th Legacy. 

13 Ibid., 10th Legacy. 

14 R icordi, 3rd Counsel. 


place twice, or at least once a month, according to a kind of “order of 
the day” which consists of: 

— the evaluation of the behaviour of the virgins, 

— the review of their “requirements, both spiritual and temporal”, 

— the decisions to be taken according to the inspiration of the Holy 

The reciprocity of gift and service between the two groups of au- 
thority at the top, and between the top and the bottom is, for Angela, a 
way of safeguarding her institution. The virgins are expected to obey, 
but the members of the government must respect them, consult them 
and get them involved in a responsible way: “And if, according to times 
and needs, new rules should be made, or any change introduced, do it 
prudently and with good advice. And always may your first recourse be 
to gather together at the feet of Jesus Christ and there, all of you, with 
all your daughters, pray most fervently. For in this way, without any 
doubt, Jesus Christ will be in your midst ...”. 15 “All of you, with all your 
daughters”: the ladies of the Brescian nobility, with the maidens of the 
Company - some of whom were their servants, or else the daughters of 
poor or illiterate folk — so that they all might feel co-responsible, as far 
as possible, for the options of “aggiornamento”, which could emerge 
only from their community prayer together. 

There is a similar prescription in the Rule : 16 if one of those in a re- 
sponsible position should die or be relieved of her office for some rea- 
son, it is “the Company” which must “meet to elect another to complete 
the number required”. Unlettered or educated, poor or rich, servant or 
mistress, all the virgins are involved in the same way; when they elect, 
with equal rights, the new member of the government, they are giving 
witness to their shared responsibility with regard to the Institute itself as 
well as to their unity. 

Although it may seem to have a purely material character, there is 
one last element which can make a contribution towards strengthening 
this awareness of belonging to a whole; this is the existence of a common 
patrimony belonging to the Company, the management of which, en- 
trusted to the matrons, will be undertaken and carried out in the name of 
and for the good of the virgins: “for the good and development of the 
Company, as prudence and motherly love dictate to you ”. 17 

And for anyone who persists in some serious failing and is unwil- 

15 Testamento, Last Legacy. 

16 Regola, Ch.XII. 

17 Testamento , 9th Legacy. 


ling to correct herself, Angela envisages a very serious punishment: 
abandonment on the part of the Company. It is a drastic measure, an 
extreme remedy applied in the hope of a conscious and definitive cure, 
which the Foundress herself explains: “It may happen that the unhappy 
woman, when she sees she is abandoned and left alone, may come to re- 
pentance and a stronger desire to remain and persevere in the Compa- 
ny”. 18 It is the punishment of isolation to make one appreciate more 
what one has lost and to make one long to return to the fold. The basis 
of this argument is clearly biblical; it recalls the pedagogy of God who 
takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but in his changing his ways 
to win life, as is written in Ezekiel (33:11). 


The hierarchical structure of the Company is defined in the chapter 
on government, in which the three categories of persons in charge, to- 
gether with their respective areas of responsibility, are set out as follows: 

- “four virgins from among the most capable of the Company”, who 
“will act as teachers and guides in the way of the spiritual life”. “We 
wish the four virgins mentioned above to have this special charge: to vis- 
it every fortnight (or more or less often as required) all the other vir- 
gins, their sisters, who live in the town, to encourage and help them if 
they are experiencing any disagreement or difficulty, physical or mental; 
or if any of those in charge at home do them any wrong, prevent them 
from doing any good, or expose them to the danger of doing evil. If 
they themselves cannot cope with the matter, they must refer it to the 
matrons mentioned above”; 

- “at least four widowed matrons who are prudent and are of honour- 
able life”. “The matrons will serve as mothers, full of concern for the 
good and the welfare of their spiritual daughters”. Their representative 
function and social responsibility are confirmed by the notarial act of 
Angela’s election: “quod quicquid factum et ordinatum et dispositum 
fuerit per eas, quod id valeat et valere debeat perinde ac si factum fuisset 
per omnes virgines dicte Societatis, promittentes semper de ratho ha- 
bendo sub earum obligatione reali et personali”. 19 It is to the “matrons” 
that the virgins in charge must refer when they themselves are unable to 
cope with some matter; 



Ibid., 5th Legacy. 


— “four men who are mature and upright”. They “will act as agents and 
fathers in the day-to-day needs of the Company”. If the virgins and the 
matrons find themselves faced with insurmountable difficulties, “they 
should meet together with the four men so that all together they can 
work out some solution”. And if it should happen that members of the 
Company needed support against some injustices of an economic nature 
to which they had fallen victim from their own families or from their 
employers, “or if any were in a similar plight which required a court-case 
or an informal settlement (which would be the better solution), then the 
four men, out of kindness and acting as fathers, should take on the busi- 
ness and help them as they need”. 

In the Trivulzian manuscript, the oldest one that is known today, 
no mention is made of the person appointed to preside over the govern- 
ment and to act as the legal representative of the Company. Nor would 
anyone dare to add it in Turlino’s printed edition, out of respect for the 
original text dictated by Angela. 20 

From 8 August 1536, the date when the Rule was approved, the 
Company had become an institute officially recognised by the Church; 
no-one, however, had given thought to electing the legal representative 
for it. 

In the meantime, Girolamo Patengola had died, leaving an inher- 
itance of some possessions to the Company, and so it became necessary 
to invest someone with the right to receive them on behalf of the Com- 
pany. Hence the first General Chapter of the Company and the notarial 
act drawn up by the notary Gian Girolamo Monti, for the election of the 
legal representative in matters involving the civil authority. 

When this particular act was submitted to the judges at the process 
of canonisation, the calligraphy expert Vincenzo Bighelli would give the 
following judgment about it: “Having examined from beginning to end 
this instrument which I am holding in hand, dated 18 March 1537, exe- 
cuted by the notary Girolamo Monte, I judge it to be true, legitimate and 
authentic from every aspect. The parchment is ancient, and the char- 
acter and the abbreviations belong to that period. This document, admit- 
tedly, is not the original, but having been examined and checked by the 
notary, it has been legally authenticated by his own signature and nota- 
rial paraph”. 21 We are publishing this act as D6, taking it precisely from 

20 Cf. The chapter on government in the two texts in D3. 

21 APC. Vat. 341, f.881v. “Questo istromento che tengo in mano in data del 1537, 18 Marzo, rogato 
dal nodaro Girolamo Monte, considerato da capo a fondo io lo giudico vero, legittimo ed autentico 
per ogni sua circostanza. La pergamena e antica, ed il carattere e le abbreviature sono proprie di quel 


the Atti del Processo, rather than from the Secondo Llbro Generate , because 
of this guarantee of agreement with the original. 

At the Chapter summoned by Angela in her role of “auctrix dicte 
Societatis”, which took place v ‘in coquina domus habitationis”, the fol- 
lowing were present: Giovita, son of Cipriano da Rezzato, weaver; Gio- 
vanni fu Martino da Bovegno, carrier; Cipriano, son of Giovanni Con- 
cagnino, hat-maker; mastro Gian Pietro Fontana, shoe-maker, living at 
Brescia, in the St Afra district, “testibus rogatis, vocatis et notis”. 

There is no mention of any specific document for this particular 
event issued by the ecclesiastical authority, and it does not seem that any- 
one of ecclesiastical rank was present. The minutes simply refer to the 
“confirmatio” (in other words, the decree approving the Rule issued by 
the vicar-general Lorenzo Muzio and countersigned by the notary Ber- 
nardino Boarno) which “ibi visa et lecta fuit ”. 22 

The reason for calling the meeting was the following: in the Kegola 
“pretermissum fuit quod elligi deberet una magistra generalis seu thesau- 
raria seu priorissa dicte societatis, que gubernare deberet elimosinas et le- 
gata factas et facta, fiendas et fienda dicte confratrie seu societati, et quod 
exigere possit dictas elimosinas et legata...”. 

Then, “facta oratione et invocatione Sanctissime Trinitatis”, the vir- 
gins summoned together “eligerunt primo in earum matrem, ministram 
et thesaurariam prefatam D. Sur Angelam, et viva voce et nemine discre- 
pante, que intelligatur et sit perpetua toto tempore eius vite, et ea mor- 
tua, quod una elligi debeat virgo per dictam societatem et in eius lo- 
cum...”. This last decision established the practice of succession by elec- 
tion, and the election of a virgin. Angela, however, would choose her 
successor herself, in the person of one of the noble widow-matrons, Lu- 
crezia Lodrone , 23 calling her, in the dedication to the Testamento, “princi- 
pal lady-governor”. 

tempo. Questo, per verita, non e originale, ma, dal Nodaro veduto e riscontrato, e stato autenticato 
legalmente con la propria sottoscrizione e segno del suo notariato”. 

22 RlNALDINI, (Edis^ione anastatica , op. cit ., p.290) refers to a decree which Angela herself supposedly 
asked for, which led to an “intervention of the Vicar-general” on 18 March 1537. Tkresa LedO- 
chowska replies (L a Kegola, cit., p.9): “If such a decree exists, and if Father Rinaldini possesses some 
items of information on the subject, he should have indicated, in his ‘critical edition’, at least the 
archive reference to them. He has not done this”. 

2) With regard to this, RlNALDINI (Ibid.) draws from his hypothetical decree the statement that “the 
Superior must be a virgin”, and he concludes that this decree was not “interpolated” into the Rule 
probably because Lucrezia Lodrone was a widow. It is obvious, though, that the statement that “the 
Superior must be a virgin” was due to the resolution “quod una elligi debeat virgo” which was 
taken by the Chapter and recorded in the minutes by the notary. For the nomination of Lucrezia 
Lodrone, cf. infra, 3.b. The “ matrmef'-. Contessa Madonna Lucrezia. 


Angela did not envisage assigning any governmental role to a 
priest, as can be gathered from the following two rules: 

— you must choose a place or a particular church where a spiritual 
director should be appointed for you all, a man who is prudent and ma- 
ture in age, to whom everyone should go at least once a month for con- 
fession; and then, every first Friday of the month, you should meet to- 
gether at this church and together receive Holy Communion from this 
priest”; 24 

- “Each one of you should obey ... your spiritual director”. 25 The right 
of each one to make a free choice of this “proprio padre spirituale” 
would be confirmed by the “Concessio” 26 of 27 September 1536, granted 
by the same Lorenzo Muzio, deputy and vicar-general of Bishop Cardi- 
nal Francesco Cornaro, who had approved the Rule on 8 August that 
same year. 

As one can see, the functions of the priests referred to in the Rule 
are strictly of a spiritual nature. 

As a result of the visit of Cardinal Borromeo to Brescia, the “spir- 
itual father for you all” would become, as we shall see, a “special vicar” 
of the bishop, with authority over the Company (“sopra di questa Com- 
pagnia”). 27 


Angela had foreseen, therefore, a completely lay institute and, what 
is more, feminine, reserving to the four men the tasks of consultors and 
of intermediaries in affairs of a temporal nature. 

a) The “ virgins ” 

In first place, in the chapter on government, come the “four virgins 
from among the most capable of the Company”. The same order would 
be followed at the first General Chapter for the election to offices: first, 
the “virgins”, then the “matrons”, and then would come a note about 
not being ready to elect the “four men”. 28 Chosen by vote to be “teachers 
and guides in the way of the spiritual life”, 29 charged with visiting their 

24 R egola, Chapter on Confession. 

25 Ibid., Chapter on Obedience. 

26 The “Concessio” is published in the appendix to the R egola of Turlino, D2. 

27 Rego/a 1582, p.29; and infra, Pt.III, Ch.II. 

28 D6. 

29 R egola. Chapter on Government. * 


“daughters” quite frequently in order to help them spiritually and mate- 
rially, the four virgins are invested with a real governmental authority 
and also that of spiritual guidance. 

Thus it is not accurate to reduce their role to that of “virgin- 
mistresses”, as is found sometimes in certain Merician literature, in other 
words to a purely formative role, submitting to the authority of the 
“matrons” in almost everything. Actually, recourse will have to be made 
to the “matrons” only in cases of emergency: “For you should avoid as 
far as you can giving trouble and concern to the lady-governors”. 30 

We have taken this last quotation from the R icordi addressed to the 
“colonelle”, because this was the title which the virgins of the govern- 
ment would very soon assume, and it was on their shoulders that the im- 
mediate responsibility vis-a-vis the maidens of the Company would fall. 
Noteworthy is the firmness with which Angela adds, still in the 4th 
Counsel: “But if you cannot provide for them yourselves, then have re- 
course to the lady-governors, explain to them promptly and without hes- 
itation the needs of your flock. And if you see that they are slow to 
help, then insist, even to the point of being importunate and trouble- 
some in my name. For if ever, through your fault and negligence, one of 
those in your charge were to be lost, God would ask you to render strict 
account of it on the Day of Judgment”. 

It is true that Angela begins the 3rd Counsel with the warning: “Be 
obedient to the lady-governors whom I am leaving behind in my place, 
because that is right ...”. But she then adds: “If it should happen that you 
have some just cause to disagree with them or reproach them, do so with 
tact and respect.... But be sure that where you know for certain that 
there is danger to the spiritual well-being and virtue of your daughters, 
you must on no account consent to it, nor tolerate it, nor be prevented 
from acting for any reason whatsoever. But always and in all things act 
wisely and with discernment”. 

The first and immediate responsibility of the members of the Com- 
pany thus falls on the “four virgins” of the government. Theirs is an or- 
dinary authority, to be exercised in the day-to-day matters, without any 
intermediaries, except in particularly difficult cases, when they will have 
to turn to that special type of major superior, the “matrons”. 

At this point it is of interest to bring out the meaning of the expres- 
sion “superior-superiors” in the three Merician Writings. Angela uses it 
nine times: six times to indicate, in a general way, the “superiors of the 
house”, that is, parents, tutors, persons in whose service the virgins of 

30 Ricordi, 4th Counsel. 


the Company are engaged; twice, when referring to the role of authority 
exercised by the “colonelle”; once, to point out, in Pope St Gregory, 
the model - for the “colonelle” - of an authority exercised in a spirit of 
service and of humility. The term “superior” is never used by Angela 
with regard to the “matrons”. 

The virgins of the government will exercise their office by being 
present to their “daughters”, with both affection and vigilance, taking 
care to know not only their behaviour, but their spiritual and temporal 
needs, and to provide for these “to the best of your ability ”. 31 At the 
same time they must be a model for them, “an example and a mirror ”. 32 

Understood in this way, the office of superior is both authority and 
formation, maternity and right of intervention, but exercised in such a 
way that the vigilance made necessary by circumstances must not be felt 
as a weight by the virgins, but as an act of love. 

In the last years of her life, Angela herself made a few changes in 
the structure represented by the “four virgins”. Let us try and recon- 
struct the stages of this evolution. 

At the beginning, the “four virgins” exercised their mandate over 
“all their other sisters who are in the city”; but then with time and with 
the expansion of the Company, Angela must have found herself faced 
with the necessity of making their task lighter by allocating them to sec- 
tors of the city. This can be gathered from the expression, “colonelli”, 
which she herself used and which then became part of the Company’s 
own vocabulary. It was, perhaps, a reminiscence of the language and 
structures of her native Desenzano, where this word was used to desig- 
nate both the administrative divisions of the town and the persons who 
were in charge of them. The change of expression, from “virgins” to 
“colonelle”, leads us to this conclusion. 

That this transformation took place later is attested by Cozzano in 
his Dichiara^ione della Bolla 33 when, going through the chief stages by 
which the structures became fixed, he relates that the Foundress “made 
the principal mother; then she made the ‘colonelle’; thirdly, she created 
the protectors.... After the death of the Foundress, the office of ‘arci- 
colonella’ was also made ...”. And then Cozzano adds that there is the 
possibility of other functions: “one can make novice-mistresses, pro- 
curators ...”. 

JI Ibid., 4th Counsel. 

52 Ibid., 6th Counsel. 

53 D24, [f.979v]. 


Thus it can be assumed that, given the increase in the number of 
members of the Company (one hundred and fifty at the time of Angela’s 
death), 34 and the fact that they were living in different parts of the town, 
it was found necessary to make some kind of division, a subdivision, 
precisely, into “colonelli”, each with a person in charge. 

There is further proof that this change in the territorial areas of au- 
thority took place while Angela was still alive: in the 5th Legacy of the 
Testamento, Angela recommends to the matrons not to hesitate to re- 
move from the Company anyone who is not willing to obey or who has 
fallen into some serious failing. But the day when, fully repentant, she 
asks to be allowed to return to the Company, she must be taken back, 
provided, however, that she asks pardon of all the matrons and also “of 
her colonello”. This proves that already each of the virgins depended on 
one immediate superior, her “colonella”. 

If one compares the tasks of the “four virgins” as they are given in 
the Kegola with the duties of the “colonelle” outlined in the R icordi, it is 
easy to see how they coincide. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that 
what is involved here is only an evolution in the terminology and a mod- 
ification with regard to the area of their authority, but there is no change 
in the function of the “virgins” who have become “colonelle”. And even 
more so, as neither the R icordi nor the Testamento mentions the existence 
of any other category of persons who had a role in the government. 

The expression “colonelle”, however, which replaces “de facto” the 
word “virgins” with reference to the members of the government, has 
not been substituted for “virgins” in the text of the manuscript Kegola of 
the Trivulzian codex, nor in Turlino’s printed edition, out of respect, 
perhaps, for the original wording which had been approved by Lorenzo 
Muzio. And so “de jure”, it is the expression “virgins” which has the 
legal value. 

When, on 23 November 1555, the notary Zanetti had to draw up a 
deed for an institutional act carried out by Ginevra Luzzago and the 
members of the Company who had remained loyal to her, of necessity he 
would use the vocabulary which was in force in the Kegola , the constitu- 
tional charter of the Company. Thus, he would write: “Congregata et 
more solito convocata Confraternitate, Societate et Congegatione matro- 
narum, virginum et puellarum sub invocatione Sanctae Ursulae in civi- 
tate Brixiae instituta, errecta, et fundata per bonae memoriae Matrem So- 
rorem Angelam Tertii Ordinis Sancti Francisci, successivisque tempo- 

M Bellintani, Vita, op. cit., ms.B.V1.30, f.[18r]. 


ribus et per reverendissimum Episcopum Brixiensem seu eius reveren- 
dum vicarium, et per litteras apostolicas confirmata ...”. 35 The threefold 
distinction is clear in this quotation: “matrone”, the widow lady- 
governors; “vergini”, to indicate the “colonelle”; and “puellae” for the 
virgin members of the Company. 

The first part of this quotation, which repeats the original formula 
“matrons” and “virgins” to indicate the two categories of persons in au- 
thority, confirms the identity of the virgin-colonelle which we have set 
out. And it is as to virgins bound to Christ and at the same time invested 
with authority, that Angela addresses her special instructions, suggesting 
to them norms of government prompted by psychological finesse and in- 
spired by a very elevated spirituality. Speaking to them, she employs dif- 
ferent expressions from the ones she uses in the Legacies to the ma- 
trons; here she touches on the essential aspects of the life of consecration 
of the virgins, using a language of the initiated, the meaning and rich- 
ness of which would escape the matrons, still caught up in all their fam- 
ily and social commitments. They are the expressions of one who knows 
she can open her heart to someone who is sharing the same existential 

There is proof of this in some passages from the 5th Counsel. Here 
is found the teaching which the “colonelle” must give, and which is not 
limited to the rules of exterior behaviour, but reaches down to the 
depths of the spirit: “They should give honour to Jesus Christ to whom 
they have promised their virginity and their whole being. They should 
place their hope and love in God alone and not in any living creature.... 
Further, tell them ... that I am constantly among them with my Lover, 
or rather, the Lover of each one of us ... They should have Jesus Christ 
for their only treasure ...”. 36 

The first “four virgins” of the government, elected 18 March 1537 
immediately after the “Madre” and before the “matrons”, were: “Barbara 
de Monteclaro, Margarita de Brixia, Agnes ancilla D. Ursulae de Ga- 
vardo, et Clara que habitat in domo ser Pauli de Angulo civis et habita- 
toris Brixiae”. 37 The only indisputable information which we possess 
about them is that they were “virgines de dicta societate”, as is attested 
in the notarial act, and not widows. 

Given the absence of any information about their civil status, it was 
not possible for us to identify them. We are giving the little information 

55 D28. 

36 R icordi, 5th Counsel. 

57 D6. 


we do possess: at that particular time Barbara seems to have been the 
only one with this name; in a notarial act of 23 November 1555, a certain 
Barbara Valtorta is listed as a member of the group of Ginevra Luzzago. 
Margherita, on the other hand, is a name which recurs frequently. In the 
1558 list of members, there is still an Agnese who “sta in casa di Gavar- 
di”; 38 even though twenty years have elapsed, this could be the same 
“Agnes ancilla dominae Ursulae de Gavardo”, elected in 1537. 

As for Clara, who lived in the house of Paolo da Angolo (Angolo is 
a village in the upper Valcamonica), we have only the flimsiest of threads 
which could link her to “Clara ed Isabetta figlie del fu Beltrame Pa- 
chieri”, who appear in three notarial acts of 1555 and 1556. 39 In the one 
of 23 November 1555, they are together with Barbara Valtorta; in the 
others the two sisters are mentioned in first place immediately after the 
mother general, Ginevra Luzzago. The possibility of such a link could 
be based on the fact that, at the first General Chapter in 1537, among 
those voting by proxy, one finds precisely an “Isabetta fu Beltrame, 
fachere da Martinengo”. “Fachere” could be a writing or copying error 
for “Pachere” or “Pachieri”. The “Clara” elected among the four virgins 
of the government could well have been her sister. If this is so, the 
father’s place of origin, “da Martinengo”, would perhaps enable us also 
to put an end to the uncertainty concerning identification of the “Chiara 
da Martinengo” who, according to Cozzano and Faino, 40 was one of the 
first daughters of Angela Merici. 

Between 1537 and 1540, the number of the “matrons” was increased 
from five to eight, excluding the “madre principale”, as is testified by the 
the dedication to the Testamento. Would the number of the “colonelle” 
also have been changed? We know nothing about this. Certainly at least 
a few changes must have been made, as we find a “colonella”, “la Pizza”, 
whose existence is clearly documented, although she did not feature 
among the group of four already mentioned. 

In actual fact, from the Libro delle Defunte, which existed at that time 
but has been since lost, the Atti dei Process i 41 report the entry of the first 
member of the Company to die: “Prima morite una fiola de una colonela 
dita la Piza, stava a Sta Afra et nome iera Marta”. Who this “colonella” 
surnamed “la Pizza” was, we do not know; nor were we able to track 
down the above-mentioned Marta who was living in the vicinity of St 
Afra. Unless it was referring to that “Marta neptis Antonii de Pezis”, list- 

,8 SLG, f.lOOv. 

59 D28, D29; and the act of 30 November 1555, in ASB, notaio Girolamo Zanetti, file 1694. 
* Cf. supra, Pt.ll, Ch.VIl, 3.a. 

41 A PC. Vat. 341, f.946v. 


ed among the members who voted in 1537. 42 Her mother, la Pizza, 
could have been a sister of Antonio. We are faced here, anyway, with a 
“colonella” who was a widow and the mother of one of the maidens of 
the Company. Failing to find a virgin with the necessary gifts for exercis- 
ing the office of district superior, Angela could have found herself 
obliged, therefore, to make such a choice. 

No documentation exists which contains the lists of the members of 
the Company, together with the “colonelle” in charge, between 1545 
(date of the act of election of the procurators and administrators) 43 and 
1555 (act of election of Veronica Buzzi). 44 

The minutes of Veronica Buzzi’s election contain the list of matrons 
and virgins - and what is of special interest to us at this point - the 
names of the “colonelle”, together with the name of the particular area 
for which they were responsible; it deals, however, with that part of the 
Company which had taken sides against the group legitimately governed 
by Ginevra Luzzago. These “colonelle” were: Santa, colonella of S. Gio- 
vanni; Angela da Serli, colonella of S. Nazaro; Maria da Leno, colonella 
of S. Faustino; Margarita [Rema], colonella of S. Afra; Andreana [da Ru- 
mano], colonella of the Mercato Nuovo; Peregrina, colonella of the 
Duomo. At this particular time the “colonelli” of Veronica Buzzi’s party 
had already become six. The fact that in the document there is no men- 
tion of any other government charges apart from the mother general, the 
“matrons” and the above-mentioned “colonelle”, is a further confirma- 
tion of the view we have expressed, namely that the “virgins” in charge 
had definitely taken over the title of “colonelle”. 

We have said “the virgins in charge”, ,but these same minutes of 
1555 give us a second case of a “colonella-madre”: Peregrina, who also 
votes on behalf of her daughter Cecilia. 45 The Secondo Libro Generate pro- 
vides us with a third example on f.lOlv: recorded here is an “Angela de 
Maria collonella”, received into the Company on 25 November 1561. We 
did not find any further examples of “colonelle-madri”. 

It is true that the 1558 list of members 46 - the Company was then 
reunited - contains the name of a Maria di Leno, colonella of S. Faus- 
tino, with her daughter Scholastica and her sister Lucrezia. But we have 
already pointed out in the previous chapter that this is a mistake. Ac- 
tually, in the minutes of Veronica Buzzi’s election, a notarial act copied 

42 D6. 

45 D27. 

44 D26. 

45 SLG, f.54. 

46 Ibid., f.lOOv. 


into the Secondo Tibro Generate , it is written: “Maria da Leno colonella di 
Santo Faustino, et D. Scholastica, et D. Lucretia tutte trei sorelle”. 47 And 
already in 1545 this had happened, 48 when all three had been put down as 
sisters in the notarial act: “Maria, Scolastica et Lucretia sorores , filie ma- 
gistri Bertolini de Garginis”. At Angela’s election, on the other hand, 
among the virgins there was only “Maria filia magistri Bertolini de 
Leno”. 49 

When Isabetta Prato took over the highest office in 1572, she would 
want to introduce new structures; the figure of the “colonella”, origi- 
nally called to be “virgin”, “mistress”, “guide”, “example”, “mirror” of 
the virgins of the Company, would be divided into two. Thus, for each 
“colonello” or administrative unit, there would be appointed, in addition 
to a “matron”, “one of the most capable of the virgins of the aforesaid 
‘colonello’, who will be called mistress because she will have to guide the 
said virgins along the path of the spiritual life”, and to this would be 
added “one of the most mature virgins, or a respected widow who will 
be called ‘colonella’”. 50 

At first sight this may seem a return to Angela’s original idea re- 
garding the “virgins of the government”; in reality, though, it was pav- 
ing the way for the introduction of a new figure, that of a person, virgin 
or widow, with rather vague and confused duties, who kept only the 
name of “colonella”, and was a member of the government, but without 
any authority. The Rule of 1582, signed by Charles Borromeo, would re- 
duce her to the role of “avvisatrice”, still retaining for her, incomprehen- 
sibly, those Kicordi (rearranged though) which Angela had meant for the 
virgins who were the local superiors of the Company. 

b) The “matrons” 

The office of the “matrons” in the government, in other words, 
widows who belonged to the Brescian aristocracy, seems to be more of a 
representative and administrative kind, charged as they are with the 
responsibility of defending the inner structure of the Company and of 
inserting it into the socio-ecclesial framework of the city. 

Given the novelty of the form of life of the Company, it was neces- 

<7 Ibid., f.54; D26. 

48 D27. 

49 D6. 

50 SLG, f.45. una delle piu sufficienti virgini dil detto collonello, et si chiamasse maestra, per 
haver da guidar dette virgini nella via et vita spirituale”. “... una vergine delle piu mature, overo 
una vedova da bene, la quale se dimandasse collonella”. 


sary that such a function be entrusted to persons who knew how to as- 
sert themselves and also to stand up to public opinion with the strength 
of their prestige, while the fact that they were widows ensured that they 
had the necessary freedom of action. The class to which they belonged 
put them in a position to protect the Company and its interests thanks, 
in particular, to their own social contacts. 

The duties assigned to the “matrons” with regard to the maidens 
are connected with discipline in the broad sense of the word, and not 
with formation, and are concerned above all with their exterior behav- 
iour and the image that they might give of the Company. 

Angela addresses the “matrons” with respect, as “honoured sisters 
and mothers ”; 51 she frequently appeals to the spiritual motherhood 
which is theirs, making reference to the physical motherhood 
experienced by some of them. They must watch over the virgins as if 
they were their own daughters , 52 with the heartfelt charity that is shown 
“by human mothers ”. 53 They must keep a careful eye on their behaviour 
so that they will be worthy of their Spouse Jesus, with as much trouble 
and care as natural mothers put into preparing and making their 
daughters beautiful for a noble husband; they must be aware, indeed, 
of the dignity that is theirs from the fact that they are, as it were, 
“mothers-in-law of the Son of God ”. 54 Such a language as this must have 
sounded familiar to their ears. 

Angela’s insistence on their mission of spiritual motherhood to- 
wards their “figlioline” seems to reveal a certain anxiety on her part 
about their ability to understand and to adjust to their role. Perhaps it is 
this fear which makes her, in the Testament, take time to exalt the royal 
dignity of their daughters which will reflect back on the matrons, 
“mothers of such a noble family ”, 55 and which will open to them the 
doors of eternal beatitude: “And there where the daughters are, the 
mothers also will be found. Be consoled, and do not doubt; we want to 
see you in heaven in our midst ...”. 56 

The “matrons” have experience in managing material goods. It is to 
them that Angela recommends a wise use of any goods that may come to 
the Company, so that they may be used “for the good and the develop- 
ment of the Company”. This is the only time when Angela expresses her- 

51 Testamento , [Prologue]. 

52 Ibid. 

si Ibid., 2nd Legacy. 

54 Ibid., 4th Legacy. 

55 Ibid. [Prologue]. 

56 Ibid., Last Legacy. 


self with a “non voglio”: “On this matter 1 do not want you to seek out- 
side advice. Decide just among yourselves in the way that charity and the 
Holy Spirit will enlighten and inspire you”. 57 

It is to them that Angela entrusts, as it were, the Rule, so that it 
may be followed by the maidens “with the utmost diligence”, 58 dictating 
the rules of a sound pedagogy, inspired by confidence in the resources of 
each one, but prudently alert to the dangers lying in wait for them. In 
spite of their involvement in the government, none of the notarial acts 
in our possession shows that the matrons had the right to vote in the 
plenary sessions of the Company. 

But who were these “matrons” to whom Angela offers an opportu- 
nity to share in the work of the government of the Company? We man- 
aged to collect together some interesting details about them and we are 
going to present them in the order followed by Angela when she dedi- 
cates her Testament “to the Countess, Lady Lucrezia, principal lady- 
governor of the Company of St Ursula; and to the other lady-governors 
and mothers, the noble Ladies ...”. 59 

- Contessa Madonna Lucrezia: 

Principal lady-governor of the Company of St Ursula, Lucrezia 
Cattani, who was not from a noble family, had married Count Ettore, 
lord of Lodrone and imperial vassal. On the strength of this last title, the 
Count was not obliged to return the “polizza d’estimo”, and this made it 
difficult for us to find out any useful information about the births, mar- 
riages and deaths of the members of the family. 

We know, however, that Ettore Lodrone - the first in the family to 
bear this name - had died in 1525, and that his son Pietro, in 1522, had 
won renown fighting under Charles V against the French. 

Bartolomeo Corsetto, who in 1683 wrote about the glories of the 
Lodrone family, from which we have taken the last two pieces of infor- 
mation, devotes a whole paragraph to Lucrezia, one of the two Lodrone 
women whom he has deemed worthy of such a honour: “Verum sicut 
praefatis proceribus summa in armis peritia, et in rebus agendis singu- 
laris non defuit prudentia, sic et in faeminis non impar religionis pietas, 
morum innocentia, et vitae sanctitas fuit. Nam praeter non paucas, quae 
monachalem vitam suscepere, inter alias maxime commendatur comitissa 
Lucretia Lodrona, quae anno a Christo nato, septimo et trigesimo supra 

57 Ibid., 9th Legacy. 

58 Ibid., Last Legacy, 

59 Ibid. [Prologue]. 


millesimum et quingentesimum quo Angela e Decentiani oppido in Ri- 
peria Benacensi celebri, Societatis Virginum Sanctarum Ursulae etc. Bri- 
xiae in nobili urbe fundamenta iecit, prima et principalis inter alias ma- 
tronas ab ipsa ipsius Confraternitatis constituta fuit gubernatrix et pa- 
trona, et in morte in eius locum subrogata..., cuius memoria in benedic- 
tione est”. 60 

Lucrezia had been elected in 1537, after the election of Angela and 
that of the virgins of the government, first in rank among the five ma- 
trons voted for by the Company. She had then succeeded Angela, not by 
election, but by designation of the “Madre” herself, as is recorded in the 
Secondo Libro Generate : “The reverend Madre Sor Angela of blessed mem- 
ory, foundress of the Company, when she had arrived at the end of her 
life, at the earnest entreaty of her spiritual daughters, chose to replace 
her as mother of the Company, the Lady Countess Lucretia di Lodrone, 
left a widow by the late Count Hectore ...”. 61 The SLG, however, does 
not quote any other source except the Testamento. 

But we found a confirmation of this choice in the notarial act of 22 
February 1545, 62 drawn up by the notary Giovan Maria Maffetti, for the 
election of procurators and administrators. 

In virtue of the liberty of action and of the power of jurisdiction 
conferred on her by Angela herself and confirmed by the Company, 
Countess Lodrone had called all the virgins together in order to proceed 
to these nominations. The document states: “Convocatis et congrega- 
tis... omnibus et singulis verginibus... de mandato et comissione Magni- 
fice comitisse... domine ministre, thesaurarie et priorisse dicte Societatis, 
vigore libertatis et baylie sibi date et atribute per prefatam quondam do- 
minam Sur Angelam, et deinde confirmate per dictam Societatem, ut in 
Capitulario sive privilegiis dicte Societatis dicitur apparere...”. 

We will meet Countess Lodrone again further on, exercising her 
powers to the full, when we study the evolution of the Company. 

60 BARTHOLOMAEUS CoRSETTUS, L odronii Leortis vetustatis , ac virtutis inclitae monimenta Nuper a Bar- 
tholomaeo Corsetto Presbytero Benacensi, Parochialis S. Petri Liani Praeposito, ac Vicario Foraneo. 
In lucem edita cum duplici Indice: Altero Auctorum et Operum, ex quibus sunt collecta; Altero 
vero rerum memorabilium. Illustrissimo et Reverendissimo D.D. Carolo Antonio Lucciago I.V.D. 
Prothonot. Apostolico, Archidiacono Canonico Ecclesiae Cathedralis Brixiae, et in eodem Episco- 
patu Vicario Generali Dicata. Brixiae, 1683. Apud Dominicum Grummum. At the BQ, SB. E. 11.34, 

61 SLG, f.53v. “La veneranda Madre Sor Angela di beata memoria, fondatrice della Compagnia, 
mentre fosse ridotta al fine di sua vita cosi pregata dalle sue figliole spirituali ellisse in suo luogo 
per madre della Compagnia la signora contessa Lucretia di Lodrone relicta quondam signor conte 

62 D27. 


- Madonna Genepra di Luciagi : 

Zenevra or Ginevra Riva (or Ripa), was born in 1502. In the 1517 
tax-return 63 , she appears in the “polizza d’estimo” of her husband, Ales- 
sandro Luzzago. He is 29 years old, and she is 15; they do not yet have 
any children. In the following tax-declaration, carried out in 1534, Gi- 
nevra, only 31 years old, is already a widow, with seven children. In her 
“polizza d’estimo”, as was the custom, the two sons, Tomaso aged 7 
years and Hieronymo aged 6, are declared first, and then come the five 
daughters, all older than the boys. Three are even already more than 
twelve years old, in other words, of marriageable age. There is a sub- 
stantial list of properties and revenues. Ginevra also has in the house 
three maid-servants and a legal administrator for the goods of the chil- 
dren still under-age. 

In 1547, Ginevra is included in the “polizza d’estimo” of her sons, 
Tomaso and Hieronymo. Hieronymo is married to Paola Peschiera 64 , 
aged 18 years; they are the parents of the future Venerable Alessandro 

When writing the life of Alessandro, Ottavio Hermanni, referring 
to the conversion of his father Girolamo, would give this testimony 
about Ginevra: “His conversion is commonly attributed, after God, to 
the holiness of his mother, who was a noble lady of the Ripa family, 
called by the name of Lady Ginevra. Over and above the mortifications 
of the body, fasts and other penances, to which she devoted herself 
continually out of love of God, she was also, out of the abundant 
generosity of her heart, the very close companion and assistant of 
Blessed Angela from Desenzano in the foundation of the very noble 
Company of the Virgins of St Ursula for which, as one can see from the 
processes this Company was involved in on a number of occasions, she 
paid out large sums of money”. 65 

Ginevra must have been very young when she entered the Merician 
circle, if in 1537, when she was only 34-35 years old, she had already 

65 PE, n.77. 

M Homonym of a maiden of the Company. 

65 Ottavio Hermanni, Vita di Alessandro Lu^ago Gentil’huomo Bresciano. Scritta la seconda volta e 
accresciuta di molte aggionte. Brescia, per Francesco Comincini, 1622, pp. 10-11. “La conversione di 
lui comunemente si attribuisce, dopo Dio, alia santita della madre, quale fu una gentil donna di casa 
Ripa chiamata per nome signora Ginevra; questa, oltre alle mortificationi del corpo ne i digiuni et 
altre fatiche (nelle quali continuamente per amore di Dio si occupava), fu ancora, per l’abondanza 
grande dello spirito, compagna principalissima et coadiutrice della Beata Angela da Desenzano nella 
fondatione della nobilissima Compagnia delle Vergini di Sant’Orsola; nella quale, come si pud ve- 
dere da processi d’essa Compagnia per altre occasioni formati, impiego etiandio molta somma de 


been elected matron. 66 We will find her again later, not only as the head 
of the group opposing the orders of Lucrezia Lodrone, but also in the 
role of mother general. 

Very faithful to the Foundress, very faithful to the Company, as we 
have already had occasion to note, 67 she would give evidence of this 
attachment of hers in her will: 6 * she would ask to be buried in St Afra; 
she would bequeath a sum of money to the Canons of this church so that 
a priest there could read the Rule to the virgins of the Company and ad- 
minister the sacraments to them; and so that each year, on 27 January, a 
solemn mass could be celebrated there, together with the divine office, 
for the repose of her soul. If the day should come when there were no 
more virgins of St Ursula, then the Canons, on All Souls’ Day, were to 
have two white wax candles lit on the tomb of the defunct Sister Angela 
(perhaps to perpetuate a practice which had already become traditional 
in the Company). 

In addition, Ginevra bequeathed in usufruct to her daughter Paola, 
married to Ludovico Soraga, a house situated in Brescia, in the district 
of the fountain of the Dulciani, so that some maidens of the Company 
could be lodged there while waiting to find a settled accommodation, 
providing they were faithful in following the Rule and in receiving the 
sacraments in the church of St Afra. 

Finally, she would forgive the Company — with the binding force 
of a will - all the debts they had accumulated toward her owing to the 
expenses incurred either through litigations or for other reasons, on con- 
dition though that the members continued to frequent the church of 
St Afra. 

This insistence of hers on binding the virgins of the Company to 
the church in which the remains of the Foundress reposed was meant as 
both a warning and a desire on her part that they should continue along 
the path traced out for them by their “Madre”. 

- Madonna Maria di Avogadri: 

We only know that she was the widow of a certain Antonio, as this 
is given in the notarial act of 1537, when she was elected matron. She 
belonged to Ginevra Luzzago’s circle of friends, 69 and it is perhaps for 

66 D6. 

67 Cf. supra, Pt.ll, Ch.Vl, 3.b. 

68 D32 - 

69 FRANCESCO GRASSO CapriolI, Camillo Tarcllo, Agostino Gallo, Giacomo Chi^gola e I’Accademia di 
Regga/o, in “Rivista di Storia dell’Agricoltura”, 1982, n.2, p.65.16. 


I this reason that she does not appear to have joined the separatist initia- 

tive sponsored by Lucrezia Lodrone. 70 

We would like, however, to mention the “polizza d’estimo” of a 
certain Pietro Avogadro son of the late Antonio, who in 1568 was 50 
years old and possessed much property. He had five daughters, two of 
whom were religious at the monastery of the Peace, and the other three 
were still unmarried. About one of these he wrote: “It is true that Con- 
stantia does not seem to want to marry”. In actual fact, a Costanza Avo- 
gadro had been accepted into the Company of St Ursula on 25 No- 
vember 1561. 71 Costanza, daughter of Pietro, Antonio’s son, could have 
been the grand-daughter of Maria Avogadro. 

- Madonna \''eronica di Bucci: 

When Doctor Camillo Buzzi compiled the declaration form for his 
income in 1534, 72 he was already 61 years old and his wife Veronica was 
only 30. Camillo had married her after the death of his first wife, Anto- 
nia. He and Veronica now have a little girl of 8 years who, in 1545, will 
already be a member of the Company. 73 In the house they also have “un’ 
altra putta tolta da levar per massara della carita, de anni 10”, in other 
words an orphan, or a foundling, being brought up for domestic service. 
In 1540, when Veronica is listed among the matrons to whom the Testa- 
mento is dedicated, she will already be a widow at only 36 years. She will 
be elected mother of the Company in 1555. 74 At the time of the reunifica- 
tion of the Company, she will yield her place to Bianca Porcellaga, but 
will resume the office on 6 February 1569 and will hold it until her death 
in 1572. 75 

- Madonna Orsolina di Gavardi: 

She is also called Ursina, Orsola, Orsina. She was not one of the 
youngest, as she must have been born about 1494. In 1534, when only 
40, she had already been left a widow by Girolamo, with three children 
to bring up: Aloysio, Margarita, Lucia, aged respectively 18, 11 and 7 
years. She was wealthy from many properties and had many creditors. In 
her house she kept a tutor, a man-servant, two maid-servants and a valet. 
She was living in the San Barnaba district. 76 Orsolina had been elected 

70 SLG, f.35. 

71 PE, n.8, 1568; SLG, f.lOlv. 

I 72 PE, Camillo di Buzi doctor collegiato, 1517, n.253; PE, 1534 and 1565, n.29. 

75 D27. 

74 SLG, f.54v; D26. 

75 Ibid., f.40. 

76 PE di Aloysio Gavardo, n.65, 1534. 


for the first time on 18 March 1537; later she had sided with the ma- 
trons who were in favour of adopting the cincture and of inscribing in 
the “libro bollato” the names of those who had agreed to wear it. 77 

In 1553, she was short-listed with Veronica Buzzi for the highest 
office, but Veronica received the majority of the votes. 78 

— Madonna Giovanna di Monti-. 

She seems to have been the oldest of the matrons. In the tax- 
declaration of 15 17 79 Giovanna, or Zoana, is included in the “polizza 
d’estimo” of her husband Zoan Batista fu Cristoforo de Monte (a branch 
of the Montis of the Corte). The couple have seven children, with ages 
ranging from 15 years to 15 months; they live in the parish of S. Alessan- 
dro, and they have living in the house a priest who serves as a tutor, and 
also a wet-nurse and two maid-servants. Giovanna’s age is not given. 
Her properties are declared in her husband’s “polizza d’estimo”, but 

She appears in her sons’ “polizza d’estimo” in 1534; she is a widow; 
her goods are included in it, but apart from theirs. She no longer ap- 
pears in the 1548 tax-declarations, and there is no further mention of her 
in the Secondo Libro Generate. 

— Madonna Isabetta da Prato: 

We have already spoken about her on a number of occasions. 80 Here 
we will just record that she was among those who supported the “libro 
bollato”. 81 In 1555, she was short-listed with Veronica Buzzi in the elec- 
tion for the mother general, and it was the latter who received the 
majority of votes. 82 Elected to the highest office in 1572, 83 she filled this 
position until her death in 1580. 84 

— Madonna Lionella di Pedeciocchi : 

In 1534, her husband, Zombaptista, together with his brothers, the 
“fratelli di Pedezochi”, filled in one joint tax-declaration. 85 He was then 
50 years old, Lionella 30. In June 1537, Nassino makes a note in his 

77 SLG, f.35. 

78 Ibid., f.54v. 

79 PE, n.90. 

80 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.III, g. 

81 Cf. SLG, f.35. 

82 Ibid., f.54v. 

83 Ibid., f.56. 

89 Ibid., f.40. 

85 PE, n.102. 


diary about the death of Giovan Battista. 86 The 1548 “polizza d’estimo” 
gives no indication as to whether there were any children. From the 1568 
one, we learn that she was still alive. 

Within the circle of the Company, in 1546 she had supported the 
introduction of the “libro bollato”; 87 in 1555 she was short-listed with 
Orsina Gavardo, Isabetta Prato and Veronica Buzzi; it was Veronica 
who, receiving the most votes, had been elected mother general. 88 

- Madonna Caterina di Mei: 

Or Meya. If the “polizza d’estimo” which we found 89 does refer to 
her, in 1534 she was only 29 years old, and her husband Bernardino was 
28; the couple had no children. One gathers that she was already a wid- 
ow in 1540 from the fact that she is one of those named in the dedication 
to Angela’s Testamento. In 1546, she had given her support to the setting 
up of the Company’s “libro bollato”, 90 but after that we do not find 
her again. 

To these nine “matrons” to whom Angela addressed her Testament, 
it is fitting to add a tenth, who had been elected in 1537 as “matrona 
supranumeraria”, 91 but who is not to be found in any later document: 

— jL ucre^ia Tu^jgago\ 

Born Avogadro-Ferrazzi, she had married Ercole Luzzago. Ange- 
la’s election act, in which the election of Lucrezia is also recorded, calls 
her the widow of Paolo Luzzago. 92 In the 1517 “polizza d’estimo” filled 
in by her, 93 she says that she is already a widow, with four children the 
last of whom, Zoan, is only three years old. 

In 1534, Lucrezia is included in the tax-declaration of her sons Ga- 
leazzo and Zoan; at that time she was 46 years old. In addition to three 
men-servants, there were also three maid-servants in the house. One of 
these, Angela, was a member of the Company of St Ursula. 94 

What may come as a surprise, when one considers as a whole all this 

86 NASSINO, R egistro, op. cit ., f.240r. 

87 SLG, f.35. 

88 Ibid., f.54r-v. 

89 PE, n.87. 

90 SLG, f.35. 

91 D6. 

92 Ibid. 

9> PE, n.77. 

99 D6. 


information about the noble ladies chosen by Angela, is the young age 
of the majority of them. By involving them in the government of the 
maidens of the Company — admittedly with mostly disciplinary and 
administrative duties — Angela was opening up new fields of activity for 
their capacity of self-giving, and was offering them, with spiritual 
motherhood, a new way of realising to the full their femininity. 

c) The “men” 

Experience, sound realism and concrete common sense prompted 
Angela to bring in as associates of the virgins and matrons, in the exer- 
cise of government, “four men who are mature and upright ... and the 
four men will act as agents and fathers in the day-to-day needs of the 
Company”. 95 Their help is to be sought in difficult cases, whenever the 
maidens find themselves prevented, by their families or by others, from 
carrying out their duties, or when they find themselves being defrauded 
of the wages due to them, and the four virgins of the government and 
the matrons together cannot cope with the situation. The maidens, in 
their turn, must obey “the governors ... of the Company”, obviously 
within the terms of their office. 96 

It is clear that it must have have been a question here, as for the 
matrons, of persons with not only a well known reputation for moral 
rectitude, but also the prestige of the kind of social position which 
offered them a certain facility of contacts. But it is also evident that their 
authority was confined to questions of a purely temporal nature. 

When the first elections for the offices to be carried out in the Com- 
pany took place on 18 March 1537, 97 the notary wrote in the minutes: 
“Circa vero provisionem dictorum quatuor hominum maturorum nun- 
dum facta fuit electio per dictam societatem, quia nundum provisum 
fuit de eis”. 

Thus, Angela was still a little uncertain: over which persons to 
choose? or over which specific duties to allocate to them exactly? or 
perhaps a mixture of the two? It seems to us that this is what can be 
deduced from the passage of Cozzano already quoted a propos the 
“colonelle”: Angela “made the principal mother; then she made the 
‘colonelle’; thirdly, she created the gentlemen-protectors, and before this 
she made the chancellor who wrote the Rule and everything pertaining 
to it and made him write many other things, and she made him protector 

95 R egola. Chapter on Government. 

96 Ibid., Chapter on Obedience. 

97 D6. 


of this Company in order to defend the Company ... novice-mistresses, 
procurators can also be made ...”. 98 

Angela herself, who from the very beginning - in the Rule - had 
established the four men as “agents and fathers”, must later have realised 
the advisability of defining their duties. Some later documents help us to 
understand this, as they show us the stages of evolution this structure of 
the four men underwent, and how the Foundress herself might already 
have divided their function by making a distinction between the role of 
the “agents” and that of the “protectors”. The role of the former re- 
tained an ordinary character; that of the “protectors”, on the other hand, 
would become one of counsel and, where necessary, of qualified inter- 
vention. It might be difficult for one person to hold two such different 
offices; hence the advisability of two different categories of persons. An- 
gela, however, made an exception for Cozzano: he was not of noble 
birth, but even so, she made him, as he himself affirms, “protector of the 
Company ”. 99 

In the Regola , Angela used the term “governors” in the chapter on 
obedience, as we have just seen, and again in the chapter on the admis- 
sion of young women into the Company. These maidens, in fact, had to 
let their parents know themselves about their desire to enter; but after 
this, it was the “lady-governors and governors” who, in their turn, had 
to discuss the matter with the family in order to avoid any misunderstand- 
ings or ambiguity. Moreover this measure gave a certain official charac- 
ter and a greater weight to the step the young person was taking, since 
the government and the family were involved together, on equal 
grounds, in examining and approving her choice. 

The petition addressed to Paul III to obtain approval for the Rule 
must have come from the “governors and lady-governors”, expressed 
precisely in this particular way. Taking up, in fact, the expressions used 
in the petition, as is the custom in the first part of a Bull, the writer re- 
peats them: “pro parte dilectorum filiorum modernorum gubernatorum 
et gubernatricum Confraternitatis virginum, sub invocatione sancte Ur- 
sule in civitate Brixiensi canonice institute ...”. 100 

In the actual carrying out of their specific functions, the two cate- 
gories of agents and protectors became more and more separate. The Se- 
condo Libro Generate , making up the lists a posteriori, allocates separate 

98 Dichiaravione della holla, D24 [f.979vl. 

99 Ibid. 

100 Paul Ill’s Bull “Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae”; D18. 


pages for “Li Magnifici signori Governatori della Compagnia” and “Li 
Agenti della Compagnia”. 101 

And yet we found nothing in any document about these men being 
present in the years immediately following Angela’s death. 

To find a document connected with the appointment of the “men”, 
we have to wait for the notarial act of 23 November 1555, from which we 
have already quoted several times. 102 It is concerned precisely with the 
election of honest men, charged with defending the rights of the Com- 
pany. And then the four men are elected: Gabriele Cozzano, whom the 
Foundress had personally chosen as secretary, then Giulio Balteo and 
Giovita Boni, all three of them notaries, and Girolamo Girardetti fu Ber- 
nardino. During the same session, the assembly also elected three “pro- 
tectors” belonging to the Brescian nobility: “il magnifico signore Giovan 
Maria Peschiera, il magnifico cavaliere Marc’ Antonio Mauri et il magni- 
fico signore Girolamo Luzzago”. The first-named was Girolamo Luzza- 
go’s father-in-law. 

The document states: “considerantes sibi et Congregationi ipsi op- 
portunum et necessarium, ac expediens iuxta eius regulam ad occurrentes 
necessitates de quorum probis hominibus providere prottectoresque 
ipsius idoneos, pro conservatione Confraternitatis et Societatis praedictae 
et iurium suorum manutentione habere, unanimiter et concorditer... fa- 
ciunt, constituunt, eligunt et deputant earum et dictae Confraternitatis, 
iuxtaque eius regulam praedictam, procuratores, agentes, actores et def- 
fensores et patres ad occurrentes necessitates praedictum dominum 
Gabrielem de Cocialibus etiam secundum dictae fundatricis intentionem 
scribam, et dominum Julium Baltheum, notarios, cives et habitatores 
Brixiae, praesentes et onus praedictum in se sponte suscipientes, nec non 
et dominum Jovitam de Bonis notarium, et dominum Hieronimum de 
Girardettis quondam domini Bernardini, pariter cives et habitatores 
Brixiae... prottettores autem suos eligerunt et eligunt, ac deputaverunt 
et deputant magnificum dominum Johannem Mariam de Pischeriis, 
magnificum Equitem dominum Marcum Antonium de Mauris et 
magnificum dominum Hieronimum de Luzagis”. 

On 18 September 1556, Gabriele Cozzano had his office confirmed; 
in addition, the group of voters, presided over by Ginevra Luzzago, ap- 
pointed and set him up as “verum nuntium missum et legitimum procu- 
ratorem ac syndicum generalem et specialem”. This notarial act seems to 

101 SLG. on ff.48 and 50 respectively. On f.48, the title “Governatori” has been crossed out and 
replaced by that of “Protettori”. 

102 D28. 


make him, in every respect, the plenipotentiary defender of the Company 
of St Ursula. 103 

In 1572, after the Company had already been reunited for a number 
of years, a group of three governesses (the “madonna”, the “maestra” 
and the “colonella”) was instituted for each of the seven “colonelli” (dis- 
tricts). At the same time, attention was drawn to the necessity of electing 
“four men, mature and of irreproachable conduct, who will be called 
agents. In addition to this arrangement provided for in the Rule, the 
government of the said Company, after the death of the blessed Angela, 
added to them four governors from among the first and foremost citi- 
zens, to whom the Company must have recourse in serious matters con- 
cerning it ...”. 1(M 

On 11 November 1573, the number of the four agents was com- 
pleted with the election of the two who were lacking; these were Messer 
Decio Duccho and Messer Gio. Paolo Poltranga. Out of the governors, 
Giacomo Chizzola was the only one still alive; to him were added 
the “magnifici signori” Hippolito Chizzola, Hieronimo Luzzago, Scipion 
Manerba. 105 

With the entry onto the scene of Cardinal Borromeo, there is no 
further talk of “governors”, but only of “protectors”. The precise mean- 
ing of this latter term is spelt out in Ch.25 of the Rule approved by the 
archbishop of Milan: “Because experience has shown that the Company 
of St Ursula can find itself, concerning temporal matters, faced with 
many needs which women cannot meet, on account of this it is necessary 
that three men be elected who will be prepared to come to their aid, ac- 
cording as the need arises, either for the general good of the Company, 
or for particular matters concerning it. The Mother and the Ladies who 
govern the Company may propose to the Very Reverend Bishop those 
who seem to them to be the most suitable in this respect and the most 
able and ready to intervene when and if a need should arise; but they 
must be approved and confirmed by his Lordship the Bishop, to whom 
will also belong the right to change them, when he judges this to be 
more expedient for the good of the Company”. 106 

iM D29 

104 Cf. SLG, f.45: “quattro huomini maturi et di approbata vita, quali se dimandassero agenti. Et ol- 
tra questo ordine datto nella Regola, il governo di detta Compagnia doppo la morte della beata An- 
gela gli aggionse quatro governatori di primi et principali della citta, alii quali nelle cose gravi della 
Compagnia s’havesse a ricorrere...”. 

105 Ibid., f. 155. 

106 R egola 1582, pp. 93-94. “Perche la sperianza ne mostra che molti bisogni occorrere ponno alia 
Compagnia di Santa Orsola circa le cose temporali, a quali non possono le donne sovenire, per 


Several times, especially in these last chapters, we have made allu- 
sions to difficult situations, to genuine conflicts which were going to 
erupt in the two decades after Angela’s death. And yet, if one considers 
the Merician Writings in their entirety and their normative contents, the 
regulations and the structures of government, one cannot help but ad- 
mire the wisdom, the foresight and the perspicacity with which every- 
thing had been set down so that, notwithstanding the novelty of the 
forms, no gaps should appear in either the rules or in the authority. 

The last years of Angela’s life had been a period of creativity, which 
had been linked to her charisma as Foundress. Those who succeeded the 
“Madre” after her death thought perhaps that all they had to do in order 
to immortalise this creative moment of hers, was to enshrine it within 
the institutional framework. But the “novitas” of the Company’s form of 
life was such that, inevitably, it would suffer from the disappearance of 
Angela’s prestigious figure. The fact remains that the situations resulting 
from difficulties arising in some of the families, from changes in public 
opinion, and sometimes from the attitudes adopted by some of the 
clergy, all combined to shake the Company and to lead it into taking ill- 
timed measures which, in time, would not be without painful conse- 

questo e necessario, che s’elegghino tre huomini, i quali sian pronti a soccorrergli, secondo che oc- 
correra il bisogno, o all’universale della Compagnia, o ne’ particolari soggetti d’essa. Potranno, la 
madre et le madonne che sono al governo della Compagnia, proporre a mum. reverendiss. Vescovo 
quelli che loro pareranno a questo effetto piu habili et pronti per sovenire ove fara il bisogno, ma 
dovranno essere approvati et confirmati da sua Signoria Reverendissima, a cui ancora stara lo mu- 
tarli, quando conoscera esser piu spediente per il bene della Compagnia”. 


Part III 


Chapter I 


For the Company of St Ursula, Angela’s death ushered in a period 
which could be defined as one of adjustment, and which was not, 
therefore, without certain jolts. 

Indeed it was to be expected, it was even inevitable that with the 
disappearance of the charismatic figure of the Foundress, her institution, 
still in its infancy, should experience the after-effects from it, and that 
the members of the government (especially Lucrezia Lodrone who, as 
mother general, had received the Merician heritage) should feel bewil- 
dered when faced with the difficulties arising from the task which had 
been entrusted to them. 

It was natural that they should try to find some way of consolidat- 
ing the Company by intervening on both the disciplinary and juridical 
levels. And so they prescribed the wearing of a cincture as an outward 
sign of consecration and of belonging to an association which ought to 
appear as a compact body; at the same time, they turned to Rome to 
obtain pontifical approval for the Company and for its Rule. 

These two initiatives had regrettable results among those who had 
not approved of the first or did not understand all the concessions result- 
ing from the second, and could not find an appropriate place for them in 
Merician literature. They did not know how to insert the former into a 
suitably reconstructed framework; to understand fully the outcome of 
the latter, they lacked sufficient knowledge of the procedure in force in 
the Roman Curia. 

A critical re-reading of the documentation and a detailed study of 
curial procedure, not to mention some completely “new” documents, 
enabled us to elucidate step by step certain aspects of these initiatives and 
their real significance. 

In the Appendix Note of this chapter, we are presenting our own 
reconstruction of the list of the first books of the Archives of the Com- 
pany, about which we were able to find some items of information. 



a) The initial bewilderment 

The first author to draw attention to the bewilderment which fol- 
lowed the early fervour and enthusiasm of various circles was Gabriele 
Cozzano. It is opportune to recall here the works of Angela’s secretary- 
scribe, chancellor of the Company: YEpistola confortatoria,' la Dichiara- 
gione della Bolla , 1 2 * la Risposta contro quelli persuadono la clausura alle vergini di 

The Epistola seems to be referring to the first defections, for which 
Cozzano gives the following reasons: “either owing to poor appreciation 
of the Rule, or out of fear of not having their needs met and of being 
abandoned, or through lack of faith in their ability to persevere”, and he 
adds the comment: “as if God, who helps anyone who gives herself to 
him, would not then come to the aid of those who have offered him 
their innocence and the first flower of their virginity”. 4 So there was a 
diminution in esteem for this new way of life, a preoccupation with the 
uncertainty about the future, a certain hesitation when it came to the 
commitment for life. These turning-points were still contained within 
the framework of individual vocational crises which could lead to a 
genuine fear that the danger of contagion might spread further. 

All Cozzano’s grief pours out in this letter; his search for comfort- 
ing arguments is touching; his faithful devotion to the Foundress makes 
him adopt an almost paternal way of speaking and he uses expressions 
which echo Angela’s teachings. Out of the three writings, this one is cer- 
tainly the calmest and the most serene; but it is also the most grieved, the 
most perceptive and the most convincing. In it, Cozzano extols the mer- 
its of the Company, without falling into the heated polemics of the 
other two works. Epistola and Risposta are probably contemporaneous, 
but they are addressed to different kinds of people and their contents are 
different. The former is directed to the maidens of the Company and pre- 
sents a synthesis of the Merician message, which is recalled in an evoca- 
tive manner, so as to put fresh heart into them at the time of vocational 
crisis; the latter is directed to the matrons and the “colonelle”, in other 
words, to the women of the government, responsible for the Company. 

1 Epistola , D22. 

2 Dichiarasyow , D24. 

’ Risposta, D23. 

4 D22, [ff.962v-963r]. 


b) The pressure towards the cloistered life 

The R isposta was written, therefore, to meet a definite set of cir- 
cumstances: on the one side, the ranks of the members of the Company 
were being infiltrated by doubt and a certain lack of confidence; and on 
the other, there were people - especially spiritual persons and eccle- 
siastics - who had no scruples in expressing reservations about Ange- 
la’s personality and about the intrinsic value of her work. On many sides 
a subtle pressure was being exerted on the members of the Company, 
pushing them towards the monastic life. Some had already allowed 
themselves to be tempted and had entered a monastery. It was necessary 
to act with firmness and to safeguard those who remained from feelings 
of bitterness or from an inferiority complex. 

This is how Cozzano describes the situation: “And now we come to 
the point of uncovering a subtle poison which the dragon never ceases 
from spreading within the Company to quench the ardour of love for it 
in their hearts. There are principally two kinds of it. One poisons minds, 
under the specious argument that it is better to turn to a more perfect 
life such as is that lived in the monasteries. The other, using a verbal at- 
tack, pokes fun and turns a nose up at the Company. What is this Com- 
pany that everyone is vying with each other to deride! Friars, priests in 
particular and other persons of good sense! And to think that doubt has 
even been voiced about the salvation of the Foundress herself, blamed 
by so many! And what kind of foundation has it, without any indul- 
gences, with weak ecclesiastical confirmation, barely approved by only a 
vicar? And certainly she deserves to be reviled, this Sister Angela, who 
urged so many virgins to promise virginity, without giving due thought 
to the fact that she was leaving them in the midst of the perils of the 
world where they could not help falling into danger, or getting married, 
or taking some other path. Hence it is happening, and one can see it, 
that there are no gentlemen, or noble ladies, or other persons of 
consideration, who desire or want their daughters to enter this Company 
where there are only girls of humble origin, servants and poor 
creatures”. 5 

The Company, as one can see, was going through what must have 
seemed an extremely critical period. One can understand why Cozzano 
took up his pen to write to those in charge, matrons and “colonelle”, 6 in 

5 D23, ff,14r-15r. 

6 Ibid., “Alle governatrici... cioe alle matrone... et alii colonelli”,; “Voi madonne, et tutte altre 
governatrici”, f.51v. 


order to put them on their guard, suggesting all the possible counter 
replies to the psychological pressures from outside. 

A prey to anxiety and bitterness, disappointed by the defections, 
worried by the specious arguments advanced by the laity as well as by 
the clergy, Cozzano tries to assemble together all the valid points to help 
those governing the Company refute their adversaries. 

His style becomes contorted, over-weighted by arguments, so anx- 
ious is he not to omit any. So violent is the polemic that Cozzano resorts 
to invective language, and the frequent references he makes to his own 
direct and passionate involvement in the affair leave no doubt as to how 
charged the atmosphere was. 

His impetuous language and the asperity of his arguments are justi- 
fied perhaps by the fact that Cozzano could see a direct threat to the in- 
stitution, the only one of its kind in Brescia, which was able to offer so 
many women the possibility of self-fulfilment in a life of consecration, 
even though they could not enter a monastery or were not attracted to 
the cloister. 

If some of them were to enter a monastery, this could well unsettle 
the others; a transformation of the Company into a monastery would 
once again frustrate the aspirations of the majority of its members and 
would once again restrict their field of choice. 

These apprehensions, and the awareness he had of the present pre- 
carious state of the Company, made Cozzano launch forth, in the Ri- 
sposta, into an exacerbated contrast between religious life and consecrated 
life in the world, in other words between monastery and Company. It is 
in the light of this reconstruction of events and of the trends which were 
gaining ground in public opinion that the Risposta must be read, other- 
wise one runs the risk of changing it arbitrarily into a pamphlet against 
religious life. 

That the attraction towards the cloistered life might have jeopard- 
ised not only the stability but the very existence of the Company, can be 
gauged from Landini’s reticence in the brief historical note of 1566 
which he sent to Milan with the text of the Rule: “After her [Angela’s] 
blessed passing away, by divine permisssion the devil wanted to sift the 
Company by persecuting it; but because it had been planted by the Heav- 
enly Father and was the work of God, it could not be uprooted or de- 
stroyed, since after many tribulations it has become ever more beautiful, 
bigger and glorious”. 7 

7 Landini, Eslratto, cit., D15. 

Besides this testimony of Landini, Lombardi adds other information 
which makes the situation clearer: Father Gondi, writing in 1600, re- 

fers to similar troubles; he says that the difficulties in which the Com- 
pany finds itself are more visible because parents, especially among the 
nobility, do not consent to their daughters remaining at home without 
marrying or entering a convent; they do not want to leave behind them 
young girls living in freedom in their own homes with the treasure of 
virginity exposed to danger; and this is why those today suffer just as 
much from mockery and tribulations, both from within and from with- 
out, as did the first virgins of this Company. This is Father Gondi up to 
here. But Father Ippolito Donesmondi expresses himself even more 
clearly when, in the Life of Monsignor Francesco Gonzaga, bishop of 
Mantua, 8 he writes that, after the death of Angela, some people thought 
it advisable that the Ursulines founded by her should all be enclosed in 
the same place, and make vows like other religious ... In spite of that, 
there were others who, remaining in their own homes, did not want to 
shut themselves away, either because they did not have that vocation, or 
because they were poor and did not have the advantage of a dowry, or 
because their parents did not want it, or for any other reason there might 
have been; they led, however, a very exemplary life, to the great edifica- 
tion of their neighbour. They then began to be called Dimesse, as if the 
Ursulines mentioned above had left them in peace to their way of life”. 9 

And from Lombardi again: “Monsignor Alfonso Paleotti, archbish- 
op of Bologna, in the pastoral Letter which he addressed to his people 
and which was placed at the beginning of the Rules of the Company 
of St Ursula printed at Bologna in 1608, says openly that such an Institute 
as this, as so often happens with God’s works, has not been without its contradic- 

8 Lombardi is referring here to Ippolito DONESMONDI, Vita di Morn. Vrancesco Gonzaga, Venezia, 
1625, lib.4, cap. 16. Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.202. 

9 Lombardi, Ibid., pp.201-202. For the term “dimesse”, cf. infra, Ch.V, 3.e. “... il padre Gondi, 
scrivendo nel 1600, allude a simili turbolenze, e dice che la difficolta di questa Compagnia molto piu 
si vede perche non sono capaci, massime i nobili, che le figlie loro restino a casa senza maritarsi o 
monacarsi, non volendo lasciar le giovani dopo loro, nella liberta delle proprie case, col pericoloso 
tesoro della verginita; pero non mancavano a quelle prime vergini di questa Compagnia degli 
scherni e delle tribulazioni, dentro e fuori, come ne anche al presente ne mancano. Fin qui il P. 
Gondi. Ma piu preciso ancora si espresse il P. Ippolito Donesmondi quando, nella Vita di monsi- 
gnor Francesco Gonzaga vescovo di Mantova scrisse che, mancata la B. Angela, si giudicava espe- 
diente da alcuni che le Orsoline da essa fondate si rinchiudessero tutte in un luogo, e facessero i voti 
delle altre monache... Con tuttocio, perche altre pur si trovavano che, stando nelle proprie case, non 
volevan rinchiudersi, o perche non avessero quella vocazione, o perche fossero povere e non aves- 
sero la comodita della dote, o perche i parenti non volessero, o qualunque altra ne fosse la cagione, 
menavano nientedimeno vita di gran buon esempio, con molta edificazione del prossimo; comin- 
ciarono pero queste a chiamarsi Dimesse, quasi che dalle Orsoline predette fossero lasciate in pace 
alia sua via”. 


tions coming from several sides, backed by apparently irrefutable arguments, the 
chief of which was that the virgins are not in their right place in secular houses, 
that the monasteries are made for them and that they cannot, without grave peril, 
preserve their virginity elsewhere" . 10 

One can easily understand the apprehension of the principal mother 
of the Company, Lucrezia Lodrone, when she saw hanging over them 
the danger of a drastic fall in numbers and of a loss of identity of the 
Company itself. The first remedy she looked for - everything points to 
it - was a remedy of a psychological nature one could say, namely to 
renew among the maidens the sense of belonging to an officially- 
recognised body, to a kind of “corporation” of the spirit with a dignity 
of its own; they would express this sense of belonging by a symbol of 
their consecration, and this symbol would at the same time constitute the 
exterior sign of a communal reality which was both their strength and 
their protection. She then looked for a second remedy, of a juridico- 
canonical nature, which would give a guarantee of stability to the institu- 
tion as such. A leather cincture would be the symbol-sign; a pontifical 
Bull of approval would restore faith in the institution. 

c) The cincture 

Lucrezia Lodrone thought this cincture might help the members to 
have a stronger sense of belonging to an Institute and give the Company 
a new prestige by means of a distinctive sign in common, but on the 
contrary it became a cause of division. 

The documentation for this period is poor and discontinuous. Do- 
neda merely says that in 1545, “the Lord allowed a split in the Company 
to begin to appear which, becoming increasingly more evident with time 
and stirring up more and more heated feelings, lasted several years and 
placed the Company in the obvious danger of breaking up and disap- 
pearing”. 11 

Lombardi, in a less veiled manner, sums up the controversy which 
had arisen at the very heart of the Company: “From some papers to be 

10 Ibid., p.201. Cf. infra, Ch.V, 3.c. “Monsignor Alfonso Paleotti, arcivescovo di Bologna, nella Let- 
ters pastorale al suo popolo indirizzata, e posta in fronte alle Regole della Compagnia di S. Orsola 
stampate in Bologna nel 1608, dice apertamente che a tale Institute, com’i solito delle opere di Dio, non gli 
mancarono contraddi^ioni da varie bande, con ragioni assai apparent i, e quel la sopra tutte, che le Vergini non 
stanno bene per le case secolari, che i monasteri sono fatti per esse, ne si possono senega grave pericolo conservare 
al trove”. 

11 Doneda, Vita, op. cit., pp.93-94. “permise il Signore, che nella Compagnia incominciasse a sor- 
gere uno scisma che, acquistando forza col tempo, e sempre piu esacerbando gli animi, duro piu 
anni, e pose la Compagnia stessa in evidente pericolo di sciogliersi e annientarsi”. 


found in the Archives at Brescia, it can be seen that, even before 1545, 
the first sparks of this fire appeared. Almost immediately after the death 
of the blessed Foundress, in fact, the greater part of the Ursulines with 
the Countess Lucrezia di Lodrone, mother general of the Company, 
observing that blessed Angela had not ordered her daughters to wear 
round their waist some sign to indicate their virginal profession, as for 
example the cord of St Francis after the fashion of the Tertiaries of 
which she was one, or again the cincture, such as was worn by the Au- 
gustinian nuns, thought of making it compulsory for all the Ursulines to 
wear the leather cincture as a distinctive sign. 

“Some of the first companions were of a different opinion; their 
leader was Dame Ginevra Luzzago, supported by Cozzano, former 
secretary and chancellor of the Blessed. They resisted this idea with all 
their force, at the Curia of Brescia as well as that of Rome. The others, 
nevertheless, by a decree of 11 December 1545, gave the order on their 
own authority that, under pain of being expelled from the Company, 
everyone, in order to be different from other women, had to wear the 
cincture. And so, as a result of this decree, the rebels were expelled. But 
the vicar-general. Monsignor Ferretti, to whom those expelled had 
recourse, ordered their adversaries to desist from making changes. And 
because they continued to treat the others as if they really had been 
expelled, he passed a decree annulling the order they had given and 
ordered them by virtue of holy obedience and under pain of 
excommunication to leave everyone free and in such a way that no-one 
was to be further troubled regarding this. There is still kept a petition 
drawn up by Cozzano with the purpose of preventing any further 
change; this was because those who wanted the cincture also tried to 
introduce the colour black for the habit. The Bull arrived at Brescia two 
months later”. 12 

12 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., pp.202-203. “Dalle Scritture nell’archivio di Brescia esistenti consta che, 
ancora prima del 1545, apparvero le prime scintille di questo fuoco: poiche quasi subito che fu morta la 
beata Fondatrice, la maggior parte delle Orsoline colla contessa Lugrezia di Lodrone, madre gene- 
rale della Compagnia, osservando che la beata Angela non area ordinato alle sue figlie di portare, 
per indizio di profession verginale, alcun segno cinto ai lombi, come sarebbe il cordone di S. Fran- 
cesco a modo delle Terziarie qual ella era, ovvero la cintura, come stilano le Agostiniane, pensarono 
d’introdurre che tutte le Orsoline usassero il cinturino di corame per distintivo. Del partito contra- 
rio erano alcune delle prime compagne, capo delle quali era la signora Ginevra Luzzago assistita dal 
Cozzano, gia segretario e cancelliere della Beata. Quelle, con tutta la forza, si opposero tanto nella 
Curia di Brescia, quanto in quella di Roma. Le altre, nondimeno, con decreto degli 11 dicembre 
1545, di loro autorita comandarono che, sotto pena di essere scancellate dalla Compagnia, dovessero 
tutte, per differenziarsi dall’altre donne, l’assumere la cintura. In conseguenza dunque di tal decreto 
le renitenti furono discacciate. Ma il vicario generale monsignor Ferretti, a cui ricorsero le espulse, 
intimo alle contrarie che desistessero dal far novita. E perche continuarono a trattar le altre come se 
fossero espulse realmente, fece un decreto col quale, annullando il precetto fatto da quelle, comando 


Lombardi does not give us the reasons which had made Lucrezia 
Lodrone — and the others with her — impose the cincture. They were 
probably the ones we have given above. We would like to add to these 
the desire to do something which, in people’s eyes, would reduce the dif- 
ference between the Company, with its secular character, and the canoni- 
cal form of the consecrated life lived in the monastery. 

The decision to impose the cincture was thus taken on 11 December 
1545 by “la molta piu maggiore parte de la confraternita et gubernatrici 
de ditta Compagnia”, as is stated in the Ordinatione printed later in the ap- 
pendix to the KegolaP Lombardi does not say if the minutes of this 
council-meeting still existed in his day; their disappearance prevents us 
from knowing today, even approximately, what the percentage was of 
those who opposed this “very large majority” who had decided in favour 
of the cincture. Certainly Ginevra Luzzago, with the support of Coz- 
zano, and a certain number of virgins of the Company, were among the 
opposition party. 

The injunction to wear the cincture was given under pain of expul- 
sion; as a result, the recalcitrants had to be crossed off the list of mem- 
bers. Whatever their number, according to what Lombardi says, they ap- 
pealed to the vicar-general. And then Monsignor Giovan Pietro Ferretti, 
suffragan bishop of the ordinary of Brescia, would have first enjoined 
Lucrezia Lodrone and her followers to refrain from making any changes; 
and then he would have issued a decree threatening to excommunicate 
them if they persisted in their intention. 

We have used the conditional tense because our research on this 
precise point yielded nothing. Lombardi himself, moreover, does not 
give any further information about these two interventions by Monsi- 
gnor Ferretti. 

An earlier decree by this same Ferretti, on the other hand, is re- 
ported in the edition of the Kegola published by Turlino as well as in the 
edition revised and enlarged under the instructions of Cardinal Borro- 
meo. 14 It is the Confirmatio of 19 May 1545 by which, in his authority as 
vicar-general, Ferretti praises the Rule of Angela and gives it a new ap- 
proval. It is to be assumed that this confirmation had been requested by 
a petition submitted by the Luzzago group. 

in virtu di santa ubbidienza e sotto pena di scomunica, che tutte fossero lasciate in liberta, e che a 
niuna venisse piu recata molestia per cio. Conservasi ancora una supplica stesa dal Cozzano, accioc- 
che fosse impedita ogn’altra novita; poiche quelle che volevano la cintura tentavano d’introdurre 
anche il color nero nell’abito. Due mesi dopo arrivo a Brescia la Bolla”. 

13 D2. 

14 Ibid., R egola, Brescia 1582, pp. 101-102. 


Meanwhile, the Bull, 15 requested in the name of the members of the 
government of the Company of St Ursula, had arrived. It reinforced 
their right to legislate and protected them from any censure when exer- 
cising this right. We will have to return later to this subject of the Bull. 

Once again, it is Lombardi who gives a general outline of the con- 
troversy which arose within the Company: “The Bull arrived at Brescia 
two months later. In it Paul III confirmed the Rule and the Institute; and 
the cincture-party, apart from the fact that they had obtained the Bull, 
had also requested that the Conservators be of like opinion to them, and 
so, on 20 April 1546, they first of all confirmed the decree passed on 
11 December of the preceding year, and then they issued the order which 
can be read at the end of the printed Rule ... They also obtained from the 
Pope an indulgence of one hundred days for those who wore the 
cincture. These, in agreement with the two Conservators, drew up the 
Libro sigillato ed autenticato, which Landini spoke about in his letter; and 
by a decree of 20 June 1546, it was decided and concluded that all those 
who were not inscribed in this authentic Book would be expelled from 
the Company, as had been said and also added in the Rule”. 16 The 
thorough study which we made of this controversy modifies some of the 
previous conclusions about it. 

We can reconstruct therefore the order of events by referring to the 
documents which have survived. With the arrival of the Bull, Lucrezia 
Lodrone took the situation in hand again by virtue of the legitimate au- 
thority which had been solemnly granted her. This was made all the eas- 
ier by the fact that the execution of the Bull had been entrusted not only 
to the ordinary of Verona, but also to two ecclesiastics who, one can 
assume, were favourably disposed towards the mother general and the 
Company, namely Aurelio Durante, archdeacon, and Donato Savallo, 
archpriest of the cathedral. The executory process of the Bull took place 
on 14 April 1546; already on 20 April the Ordinatione mentioned above 17 
was promulgated. Invoking the decision of 11 December 1545 and the 

15 D18. 

16 Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p.203. “Due mesi dopo arrivo a Brescia la Bolla... in cui Paolo 111 con- 
ferma la Regola e l’lnstituto; ed il partito della cintura, oltre ad aver ottenuta la Bolla, impetrato 
avendo che ancora i Conservatori fossero di suo genio, da questi sotto il di 20 Aprile 1546 fu confer- 
mato prima il decreto stabilito l’anno avanti addi 11 Dicembre; poi fu fatta I’ordinazione che leggesi 
a pie della Regola stampata... Ottennero anche dal Papa una Indulgenza di cento giorni per quelle 
che avessero la cintura. Queste, d’accordo coi due Conservatori, inventarono il Libro sigillato ed 
autenticato, di cui parla nella sua lettera il P. Landini, e con decreto de’ 20 Giugno 1546, resto deciso 
e concluso, che s’intendessero cacciate dalla Compagnia tutte quelle che in detto Libro autentico, 
come accennasi, e come pure aggiunto fu nella Regola, scritte non fossero”. 

17 Ordinatione, in the appendix to the Regola, D2. 


faculties granted by the Bull, the two Brescian “executors” (or “conser- 
vators”) of the Bull laid down that the virgins must “wear a cincture of 
black leather, about the width of a little finger, as a sign of true conti- 
nence ... under pain of being expelled from the said Company ...”. 

The Ordinatione also indicated the reasons for this decision: 
“through these exterior signs the interior spirituality of a person is often 
made known, and they show that the person belongs to the said congre- 
gation; they also indicate true humility and perfect chastity”. 

Without any delay, Lucrezia Lodrone, with five matrons of the 
government, made provision for the introduction of a “Libro bollato”, 
or official register carrying the signatures and seals of the “conserva- 
tors”, with the aim of entering in it the names of those who had agreed 
to wear the cincture. The others, namely those who had refused to do 
this, would find themselves by this very fact expelled from the Com- 
pany. 18 

Among those who had subscribed to starting this “Libro bollato” 
was Isabetta Prato, one of the earliest matrons; it was she who had of- 
fered, in her house in the Cathedral square, the oratory which had been 
the cradle of the Company. And her presence, never before commented 
upon, is enough to weaken the accusations of misuse of power which 
have been levied against Countess Lodrone. But the names of Ginevra 
Luzzago, Maria Avogadro and Giovanna Monti are missing. With re- 
gard to the last two, Giovanna Monti della Corte was already dead in 
1548 according to the “polizza d’estimo” of that year; Maria Avogadro, 
who belonged to Ginevra’s circle, had probably joined sides with her 
in the opposition-party. 19 Neither of them appears in the notarial act 
of 1545. 

We are giving here a report of the minutes of the inauguration of 
the “Libro bollato” as they must have been set out on the first page of 
this register, and as they were copied into the Secondo Libro Generate, 
on f.35r-v. 

“Institution and arrangement of the [here the written word ‘present’ 
has been crossed out with a pen] ‘libro bollato’. 

“In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen. After the arrival of the apostolic Bulls given in Rome in the year 
1544 on 9 June, in the tenth year of the Pontificate of our lord Pope 

18 SLG, f.35r-v. 

19 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.VIII, note 70. 


Paul III, and addressed to the Reverend Prelates the Archdeacon and the 
Archpriest of the Cathedral of Brescia, the process was fulminated in the 
customary form on 14 April 1546, in the fourth indiction, and drawn 
up by D. Gio. Battista Trappa da Quinzano, notary; in these Bulls is 
contained the quasi-divine and highly privileged erection, that is the 
confirmation or reform of the Company of the maidens of the glorious 
Lady St Ursula, founded earlier however through the good memory 
of the late Lady Sister Angela of the Third Order of Friars Minor, a 
woman of great austerity of life and reputed blessed by many after her 
death, and it was ordained ut infra. 

“By the magnificent Lady Countess Lucretia da Lodron and the 
other magnificent Ladies whose names follow, that is madonna Chate- 
rina di Mey, madonna Orsolina di Gavardi, madonna ...[space], madonna 
Veronica di Buzzi, madonna Isabetta da Prato, madonna Leonella di Pe- 
dezocchi, all established in this government by the lips of the aforemen- 
tioned defunct Angela herself, and by the agents or governors and by the 
confraternity. In virtue of the power granted them by His Holiness our 
Lord the Pope in the said Bulls, and in no way deviating from the terms, 
they have established the present register in which will be inscribed all 
the maidens who wish to belong to this most blessed Rule, wearing the 
prescribed cincture, and persevering under the orders, obedience and ob- 
servance of the said Lady Countess and successor to the Foundress, ap- 
pointed mother and lady-governor by the mouth of the late aforemen- 
tioned Madre Suor Angela and by the said lady-governors, governors 
and confraternity; and this is meant to ensure that now and in the future 
there shall be one sole body and all controversy or seeds of discord shall 
be rooted out and there shall be only one sheepfold and one shepherd; 
and those who are not inscribed in this book are not to be considered as 
belonging any longer to the congregation; they will not be able to enjoy 
the indulgences, graces, privileges, immunities, advantages or alms and 
benefits ordinary and extraordinary granted to those who belong to the 
said holy Company of St Ursula, inscribed in this book and obedient as 
it is laid down above, even if the others claim that in the past they be- 
longed to this Company. 

“And this in accordance with the commands laid down for the 
above-mentioned maidens by the said Lady Countess, the governors, the 
lady-governors and the confraternity, as well as with the other constitu- 
tions and ordinances left by the aforesaid Madre Suor Angela, foundress 
as has been said above, and with her quasi-divine testament, and they 
will do that in the best way, etc. they know and can, seeking to depart in 
no way from these orders and constitutions, but rather to extend them. 


“Given at Brescia, on the 21st day of June 1546”. 19b 

Lombardi must have been perplexed by this “Libro bollato”. We 
found in the Archives of the Patriarchal Seminary at Venice a letter from 
him, dated 3 June 1758, addressed to Father Francesco of Desenzano 
who at that time was occupied at Brescia with the diocesan process of 
Angela’s beatification. In the letter Lombardi writes: “I seem to remem- 
ber writing some time ago, either to Signorina Lelia 20 or to Your Pater- 
nity, that neither Father Landini’s letter nor the transcription of the 1546 
‘libro bollato’ which he spoke about in this letter, must be inserted in the 
Process, so as to avoid running into a lot of unnecessary trouble. In case 
I did not do so in the past, I am making up for it now by repeating these 
words .” 21 Lombardi was perhaps afraid that the evidence of the disputes 

l9b “Institution et ordination del [...] libro bolato. In nomme del Padre, del Figliuolo et del Spirito 
Santo. Amen. Doppo che furono gionte le apostolice Bo lie datte in Roma l’anno 1544 alii 9 giugno, 
1’anno decimo del Pontificato de nostro signore Papa Pavolo III, direttive alii R.di prelati Archidia- 
cono et Arciprete della cathedrale di Brescia, fu fulminato il processo in forma consueta sotto il 
giorno 14 d’aprile 1546, nella indictione quarta, rogata per D.Gio. Battista Trappa da Quinznno, no- 
daro, nelle quali si contiene la quasi divina et amplamcnte privilegiata erectione o sia confirmatione 
overo reformatione della Compagnia delle virgini della trionphante madonna santa Orsola, fondata 
pero peravanti per la buona memoria della quondam madonna suor Angela del Terzo Ordine di 
Frati minori, donna di austerissima vita et da molti doppo la morte sua reputata beata, fu ordinato 
ut infra. 

“Per la magnifica signora contessa madonna Lucretia da Lodron, et le altre infrascritte magni- 
fice matrone videlicet Chaterina di Mey, madonna Orsolina di Gavardi, madonna. ..[lacuna], ma- 
donna Veronica di Buzzi, madonna Isabetta da Prato, madonna Leonella di Pedezocchi, tutte di 
propria bocca instituite al governo tale dalla quondam Suor Angela antedetta et per li agenti seu 
governatori et confraternita. Secondo la potesta a loro datta dalla Santita de nostro Signor Papa in 
dette Bolle, et da quelle per niun modo partendose, hanno fatto lo presente libro, dove saranno de- 
scritte tutte le virgini voranno esser di detta felicissima regola portando la cinctura comandata, et 
stando alii ordini, obedientia, et osservanza della predetta signora contessa et successore sua, come 
madre et gubernatrice instituita di propria bocca dalla antedetta Madre Suor Angela et dalle prefate 
gubernatrici, gubernatori et confraternita, et questo accio sia et rimanga un corpo solo, et che ogni 
controversia et discordia, overo zizania, sia estirpata, et sia un’ovile et un solo pastore, et quelle che 
non si troveran scritte sul presente libro, non s’intendano esser di tale congregatione ne galder 
debba delle indulgentie, gratie, privilegii, immunita, utilita over eleemosine et beneffitii soliti et 
non soliti, spettanti a quelle saranno di detta santa Compagnia di Santa Orsola descritte nel presente 
libro et obedienti come disopra, ancora che per altri tempi pretendessero esser state di quelle di essa 

“Et questo inherendosi alii comandamenti fatti per detta signora contessa, gubernatori, guber- 
natrici et confraternita alle virgini antcdette, et alle altre constitution! et ordini lasciati per la predetta 
Madre Suor Angela, fondatrice, come disopra, et al suo quasi divino testamento, et con ogni altro 
meglior modo etc. sanno et puonno, alle quale non s’intende ullo modo derogare, ma piu presto 

“Dato in Brescia, alii 21 di giugno 1546”. 

211 Lelia Malvezzi, then mother general of the Company of St Ursula at Brescia. 

21 ASPV, Sala Monico, XXa, ms. 786, 4. “Mi pare che scrivessi tempo fa o alia signorina Lelia, o a 
Vostra Paternita, che ne la lettera del padre Landini, ne il transunto del libro bollato del 1546, accen- 
nato in detta lettera, si inserissero nel Processo, per non andar a cercar guai senza proposito. Sup- 
pi isco ora ripetendo il medesimo, se avessi mancato in passato”. 


and the divisions might have some unfortunate repercussions or throw 
some shadow on the figure of the “Madre”. Whatever the case, the 
extract from Landini’s letter (published in the appendix to the Kegole 
printed at Milan as from 1569) was made known to the witnesses interro- 
gated in the course of the canonical process and widely quoted by them 
in support of their depositions. 


To improve the endangered fortunes of the Company of St Ursula 
and to increase respect for it in its members and all the city, Lucrezia 
Lodrone set great store on the Bull requested from Rome and on the 
prestige that pontifical approval would confer on the institution by en- 
riching it with some indulgences, as was the custom. Had not Cozzano 
written that one of the criticisms levied against the Company was pre- 
cisely that of being “without any indulgences, with weak ecclesiastical 
confirmation, barely approved by only a Vicar?” 22 

To rebut this objection, Cozzano had resorted to various argu- 
ments; among others, he had insisted on the value of an obedience and a 
fidelity unconditioned by the promise of indulgences. As for the fact that 
the Rule had been approved “by only a Vicar”, he had given a double 
justification for it: on one side, for the time being, God preferred an obe- 
dience which needed no incentives (“senza speroni”); and on the other, 
the Rule had not yet been submitted to the Holy See for pontifical ap- 
proval: “Although this has not yet appeared in any Bull or Brief of the 
apostolic See because this light of life, set alight here by God in our day, 
has not yet been presented to the Holy See, or again because it is not the 
moment to spread in such a way this new divine grace, one thing is cer- 
tain, and that is that, at this particular time, the obedience carried out 
without incentives and in the strength of faith alone pleases God and the 
Church more than if it depended on written promises and relied on a rec- 
ognised authority”. 23 

And so at the time of the Kisposta, Cozzano seemed to exclude the 
imminent arrival of a Bull of approval for the Company. When, then, 
had it been requested? In whose name? Who had requested it, and in 
what terms? 

22 Kisposta, D23, f,14v. 

23 Ibid., f.44r. 


a) The petition 

The question of the petition is complex and controversial in certain 
of its aspects. After he had read the Bull — and this must certainly have 
been in the period after April 1546 — Gabriele Cozzano prepared a 
translation of it into the vernacular, together with some explanatory 
notes. This is his third writing: Dichiara^ione della holla del Papa Paolo III. 
The tone of it betrays the end of a wait. 

“And so at last we have finally read and re-read this long-desired 
bull in which our Sovereign Pontiff lays open to this holy Company the 
innermost depths of the great kindness of his most generous heart. And 
we have looked at it with such jubilant joy, as if the living source of all 
kindness had come down to us here from heaven. Because today the 
Holy Father has shed such an abundance of apostolic liberalities on our 
pure, royal and angelic Company that they could scarcely have asked for 
more. So let us rejoice together. Let us be jubilant and exult in our 
hearts and cry out our joy on all sides with festive voices”. 24 

Cozzano’s joy and satisfaction are evident. He stresses how the 
Pope’s liberality has far exceeded the expectations of those who had for- 
warded the petition: “tanta abundantia di liberalitade apostolica ha 
sparso il Padre Santo... quanta piu domandare a pena potevano”. The 
third person plural “potevano”, which is to be found in the Vatican APC 
as well as in the copy in the AGUUR, and the dedication of this writing 
to Ginevra Luzzago and the Company, present us with a kind of dichot- 
omy. It is as if Ginevra and the Company of St Ursula were in oppo- 
sition to the “others”. Others who, in this case, were Lucrezia Lodrone 
and the members of the government. 

Once again, and precisely because of these “others”, spite, satisfac- 
tion, polemics, and above all the fear that the text dictated to him by the 
Foundress and so faithfully collected together by him might in some way 
be mutilated, all combined to the detriment of clarity. Cozzano, in this 
instance, showed that he was completely in the dark regarding the pro- 
cedure followed by the Roman Curia for the promulgation of Bulls, and 
this ignorance made him prejudiced in his interpretation of the pontifical 

In our exposition we will often have to refer to the curial praxis to 
make it easier to understand certain details. 

The first step to be taken to obtain a pontifical document of ap- 
proval of the Company was the drawing up of the “supplica”, and it is 

24 D24, [f.969r-v]; AGUUR, B.6, f,1398v. 


precisely about this petition that there is no shortage of inferences and 
confusion, originating from the lack of clarity with which Cozzano sets 
out the facts and from the consequent difficulty presented in reading his 

Now, the government of the Company had turned to the Holy See 
to obtain the approval of the Company and also of the Rule. As was the 
procedure in force, the petition then had to be drawn up in Rome “in 
forma curiae”, in other words in the curial language which, by using 
longstanding expressions, specific detailed data and formulas of conces- 
sion, provided the framework for the future document. 

The Bull then referred to the petition, to grant the favours re- 
quested. A reconstruction of the petition, though, by using Cozzano’s 
annotated translation of the Bull could lead us into error, because what 
he says is dictated a posteriori by his spirited defence of his theses and by 
his irritation at the thought of the use that Lucrezia Lodrone will make 
of the concessions obtained. 

A first confusion concerns the drawing up of the petition and its 

The procedure requires that a Bull take up again, in the “narra- 
tio ”, 25 the same terms as the favour solicited; in this specific case, it 
meant introducing the Company of St Ursula, on whose behalf the re- 
quest was then made for approval. 

Before translating this part of the Bull, Cozzano sets out its contents 
in order. We are doing the same, setting out in our turn his exposition of 
the “narratio”, which Cozzano himself calls “supplicatione”. 

The “supplicatione” consists of two main parts : 26 

first part, “the way in which the Rule and the Company were planted”: 

a) “how some virgins, divinely inspired, planted this Company”; 

b) “how, to govern this congregation, they made a certain rule”; 

c) “how this rule was confirmed by the Holy See”; 
second part, “contains what is requested”: 

a) “it is petitioned that this Company and rule may be reinforced even 
more by the solid strength of the Apostolic See”; 

25 For the vocabulary and the praxis of the Roman Curia in this section, cf. PAULUS RabikAUSKAS, 
SJ, Diplomatica Pontificia (Praelectionum lineamenta), ed. IV, ad usum Auditorum, Universita Gre- 
goriana editr., Roma 1980. For the basic norms, see the same author, Diplomatica Generalis (Praelec- 
tionum lineamenta), ed. IV, ad usum Studentium, Romae 1976. Fr P. Rabikauskas, professor of the 
Pontifical Gregorian University, very kindly guided us in this far from easy study of the curial 
praxis and in the analysis of the documents concerning the Bull. 

26 D24, [ff. 972 v-973r |. 


b) “and that the Apostolic See may be willing to take any other suitable 

A wave of memories, stirred up by the translation of the first part 
of the “supplicatione” which contained a very short historical excursus 
on the Company, makes Cozzano linger over recalling its origins, the 
first followers of the “Madre”, her moral personality and her way of 
governing, her vocation of Foundress. 

He does this in a passage which he entitles “Dechiaratione della 
prima principal parte della Sopplicatione”, and it is clear that he is 
getting ready to speak about the institution of the Company and its 
Rule. The title, though, has misled some historiographers; they thought 
Cozzano intended speaking about the petition sent to Rome to obtain 
the Bull: 

“I myself and a Canon doctor, Dusina by name, personally pre- 
sented it [the Rule] to Lorenzo Muzio, who was then Vicar [General], 
and it was he who often said while he was reading it (I remember) that it 
had been done with great judgment. The notary who applied the seal to 
it was called Boarno. It was written by my own hand, and it was entirely 
composed by me. But the contents were by the Holy Spirit, dictated 
through the intermediary of the Foundress ”. 27 

Let us say immediately that this testimony carries considerable 
weight. It concerns the relationship between Cozzano-scribe and Angela- 
author regarding the Rule and justifies his strenuous defence of the text 
against any attempt to change it: “It was written by my own hand, and it 
was entirely composed by me. But the contents were by the Holy Spirit, 
dictated through the intermediary of the Foundress”. This did not escape 
the attention of Father Ansgario Faller . 28 

Faino read this passage as if Cozzano was speaking about the peti- 
tion instead of the Rule. He was followed in this by Doneda whom 
Lombardi reproduces almost word for word, taking over as his own Do- 
neda’s statement that Angela, towards the end of her life, had turned to 
the Holy See to obtain the approval of the Company: “She had set her 
heart on obtaining from the Holy Apostolic See the approval of her 
Order, which was increasing day by day. She had recourse therefore to 
her secretary and very close friend Gabriele Cozzano so that he, as a man 
of letters and a lawyer by profession, might write, with all the proper cu- 
rial formulas, a petition which she intended to have presented to the 

27 Ibid., [f.973 v]. According to the minutes of the chapter-meeting of the Canons of the cathedral 
on 2 December 1534, Andrea Dusino was “Decretorum doctor”, AC, n.37. 

28 ANSGARIO Faller, Introdu^ione a S. Angela Merici. R egola Ricordi Legati , op. cit., p.XXX. 


Sovereign Pontiff. ‘The petition ’, says Cozzano himself, ‘was written by my 
own hand, but the contents were by the Holy Spirit, dictated through the intermedi- 
ary of the Foundress’. But as these steps usually dragged on for a long 
time, even though she took sensible precautions to bring this affair to a 
conclusion, the Blessed could not enjoy in her own lifetime the fruit of 
her labours and diligence ”. 29 

It is clear that Lombardi did not take time to examine the subject 
carefully by analysing Cozzano’s words; he relied instead on the author- 
ity of Doneda, without checking the statement critically. He may have 
been influenced also by the fact that he had seen (or had heard mention 
of) another petition which Cozzano had put forward with a different 
purpose in mind: “There is still preserved a petition drawn up by Coz- 
zano with the aim of preventing any other change, because those who 
wanted the cincture were also trying to introduce the colour black for 
the habit ”. 30 

But regarding the petition sent to Rome by the members of the 
government, so far we have no information. 

Chancellor of the Company and, what is more, personally nomi- 
nated by Angela as its protector, Cozzano naturally would not have been 
ignorant about it. But his incompetence with regard to the language and 
the specific contents of the pontifical documents made him react over- 
hastily to some of the concessions granted by the Bull, as if they had 
been requested through “false and forged petitions”. It was really a ques- 
tion, though, as we shall see, of set formulas associated with the normal 

As for the petition drawn up “in forma curiae”, we know that as a 
rule the petitions presented to the Roman Curia and duly approved by 
the competent authority (as was the case with the petition addressed by 
Angela regarding her own burial ) 51 were copied into books called “Re- 

“Stavale sopra tutto a cuore d’ottenere dalla S. Sede Apostolica l’approvazion del suo Ordine, che 
ognidi piu andavasi aumentando. Ricorse percio al suo segretario e famigliarissimo Gabriele Coz- 
zano, affinch’egli, come letterato e causidico di professione, mettesse in iscrittura colle formole 
proprie della Curia una supplica, ch’ella disegnava di far presentare al Sommo Pontefice. ‘La sup- 
plica, dice il Cozzano medesimo,/» scritta di mia mano, ma i semi furono dello Spirilo Santo, dettati per via 
della Fondatrice'. Siccome pero tali maneggi sogliono sempre andare alia lunga, cosi non ostante i 
saggi provvedimenti da lei usati per condurre a termine questo affare, non pote la Beata godere in 
vita il frutto de’ suoi sudori e diligenze”. In quoting Cozzano, Lombardi, Vita, op. cit., p. 113, 
attributes to him the expression: La supplica fu scritta, but the words La supplica are not in the pas- 
sage by Cozzano, which begins with Fu scritta. For the other two authors: Faino, Vita, op. cit., p.67; 
Doneda, Vita, op. cit., p.80. 

i0 Ibid., p.203. We did not find any other evidence about this petition, [cf. Italian text in note 12]. 
31 Cf. supra, Pt.II, Ch.VI, 2. 


gistra supplicationum” or into other similar books (the Penitentiary, 
though, did not register the petitions connected with “casi occulti” or 
“in foro conscientiae”). 

This transcription into the registers contained all the terms of the 
original; these, in fact, had to supply the elements needed to draw up the 
pontifical document. It also carried the formula of approbation and the 
corresponding date which had been added when the Pope had expressed 
his consent. 

The petitions of the tenth year of the pontificate of Paul III (1 No- 
vember 1543 - 31 October 1544) fill 29 large registers of the Vatican Se- 
cret Archives, 32 and some of them are even to be found in later registers. 
We consulted more than a third of these registers, even though we 
knew, as asserted by Katterbach, 33 that the petitions of the “secret” Bulls 
of the time of Paul III are lost. And it is precisely to this group of 
“secret” Bulls that the Bull for the Company belongs. 

The question of this petition also interested Teresa Ledochowska, 
but the arguments she uses and the conclusions she arrived at are not 
really tenable. 34 

b) The recipients and the executors 

The register marked Reg. Vat. 1696 in the Vatican Secret Archives 
contains two transcriptions of the Bull “Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae” 
of 9 June 1544, on ff,193r-195v and on ff.223r-225v. In both cases the 
text of the Bull is inserted into the text of the executory Mandate; in 
other words, it includes the “commissio” of the “executio” to the three 
executors charged with seeing that it was carried out. 

The transcription into the register was a guarantee of the promulga- 
tion of the Bull and also of the exact correspondence between the Bull 
that was sent and the one entered into the register. The fact that the Bull 
“Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae” has been registered twice in the form 
of an executory mandate must be ascribed to an oversight of the copyist 
(in this case, a certain V. Bassa). So the apostolic secretary Blosio 35 
worked on the second transcription; he crossed out the parts regarding 

52 Reg. Suppl. 2497-2525; cf. Bruno Katterbach, Inventario dei Registri delle Supp/iche , Citta del 
Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1932, pp. 125-126. 

33 Katterbach, Inventario , op. cit., p.113, note 1. 

3,1 Ledochowska, Angela, op. cit., II, pp. 16-29 and pp.299-300. 

35 Blosio Palladio (or Biagio Pallai) was elected bishop of Foligno on 5 November 1540; on 24 
January 1547, he renounced this dignity, without ever having - apparently - received episcopal 
consecration. Cf. hlierarchia Catholica, III 2 , Munster 1923, p. 199; Ludwig VoN PASTOR, Storia dei 
Papi, V, Roma 1931, pp.696-697. 


the “commissio” of the “executio” and confirmed the two lines of era- 
sures with his own signature, putting “Bio” at the beginning of each line 
and “sius” at the end. 

The Register 1696 is reserved for the so-called “secret” Bulls, which 
were sent on behalf of certain persons and were exempt from the usual 
taxes. At that time the apostolic letters of this kind were prepared and 
composed outside the Chancellery, by the office of the “sommista” (cre- 
ated in the second half of the 15th century) and by one of the Pope’s 

There is another fact which shows that this Bull did not pass 
through the Chancellery: at the beginning of its transcription into the 
Reg. Vat. 1696, on the right-hand side there is no corresponding signature 
of the abbreviator of the Chancellery, in other words, of the minute- 
writer. But in the top left-hand margin there is the name of the apostolic 
secretary “Blosius electus Fulginatensis”, elected bishop of Foligno but 
not yet consecrated. 

As far as we can tell, the printed version of this Bull was published 
for the first time in 1620, in the appendix to the Kegola printed at Brescia 
by Pietro Maria Marchetti. It consists of the text, incomplete, of the 
executory Mandate, with the Bull incorporated; this text carries the 
following signatures: “Bios. Elect. Fulgin”, “M. Card. Crescentius”, 
“Registrata apud Blosium Secretarium”. 36 

Marcello Crescenzi was a Roman; he had been created cardinal by 
Paul III on 2 June 1542; bishop of Marsico and a celebrated lawyer, he 
was secretary of the Signatura of the Briefs. 37 

Bernardino Faino published the text of the Bull in the appendix to 
the Kegola della Compagnia delle Verglnl di Sant’Orsola di Brescia,™ with the 
signatures mentioned above, adding to it a testimony of the utmost im- 
portance: in the Archives of the Company of Brescia there were two 
pontifical documents, the principal Bull and the executory Mandate. 

We do not know which of the apostolic writers wrote the text. Fol- 
lowing the usual practice, he had to do it on parchment, using for both 
the principal Bull and the executory one the special writing, without 
punctuation and diphthongs, which was reserved for this kind of docu- 

16 R ego/a, Brescia, 1620 cit., pp.97-102. 

17 Pastor, Storia, op. cit V, p.134; Moroni, Di^ionario, op. cit., Vol.Vl, p.121, article “Breve”. 

18 Kegola, Brescia-Bologna 1672 cit., pp. 159-164. 


The principal Bull does not seem to have been addressed to any one 
or more persons in particular. 

The formula “ad perpetuam rei memoriam”, which replaced the 
mention of one or more recipients (the so-called “inscriptio”), indicated 
the solemn nature of the document (“litterae sollemnes”) and gave it the 
juridical importance of a constitution or of a decree. 

The principal Bull must certainly have been handed over to the 
procurator “of the governors and the lady-governors” of the Company, 
who had forwarded the petition in their name. 

In the text, the Pope referred to the petition “of the governors and 
lady-governors” of the Company; he absolved them from any canonical 
sanction and granted them the right to pass laws. 

The expression “governors and lady-governors” in the Bull need 
not cause surprise. We have already seen how Angela’s Rule envisaged a 
government composed of virgin-colonelle, lady-governors and men- 
agents, assigning specific tasks to each category. Hence the origin of the 
expression “governors and lady-governors” used to indicate all the 
members of the government. 

The testimony published by Faino, mentioned earlier, also helps to 
interpret the meaning of the “commissio” given to the three executors, 
for it is entitled “Bulla eadem pro suo usu et executione intimata”, 39 and 
says precisely: “Cum exemplari plene authentico Bullae supradictae, extat 
apud Societatem Brixiensem Sanctae Ursulae etiam alia Bulla, similis data 
anno et die iisdem, directaque Episcopo Veronensi uti proximo, nec 
non pro tempore existentium Archidiacono et Archipresbitero Ecclesiae 
Cathedralis Brixiae, electis in ea apostolicis conservatoribus pro eiusdem 
executione, etc.”. 

The procedure laid down that three executors should be responsible 
for publishing the concession obtained from the Apostolic See, for or- 
dering its execution and for seeing that the conditions set out in the Bull 
were respected. As a rule these executors were suggested by the signa- 
tory of the petition, who selected them from among those favourably 
disposed towards the decisions contained in the Bull. This juridical pro- 
cedure was a most standard one; the three “dignitates”, who had to see 
that the Bull was carried out by those concerned, were invested with the 
authority necessary for its publication and its formal notice. 

In this particular case, the three chosen were the bishop of Verona, 
who at that time was Pietro Lippomano, and two ecclesiastics of the 
cathedral of Brescia, the archdeacon Aurelio Durante and the archpriest 
Donato Savallo. 

, ‘ l R egola, Brescia-Bologna 1672, cit. , p.165. 


Unaware of this point of the procedure, Gabriele Cozzano, in the 
Dichiara^jone della Bolla, reacts sharply to the fact that the bishop of Ve- 
rona has been nominated: “I do not know to what purpose our lady- 
governors asked for the Bishop of Verona as protector, refusing our 
own Episcopal See which has been so favourable to us; and this they 
have done unjustly and maliciously, without seeking counsel or con- 
sent”. 40 

It must be noted that the executory Mandate does not give the 
names of the persons who correspond with the selected “dignitates”. Ac- 
cording to the curial practice, which had been in use since the 12th cen- 
tury, the omission of the name or names in the “inscriptio” of a papal 
document meant “quod non scribitur personae sed tantum dignitati”. 41 

At the time of the Bull, the bishop of Brescia was Cardinal Andrea 
Cornaro (c. 1509-1551); he succeeded his uncle Francesco in the episco- 
pal see in 1532, but he only took possession of it in 1546. 42 His vicar 
was Annibale Grisoni, who would be succeeded by Gian Pietro Ferretti 
in 1545. 

Some time earlier, the archdeacon of Brescia and the vicars-general 
of Bergamo and Cremona had been commissioned to put into execution 
a Brief addressed to the Abbess and the religious of the monastery Santa 
Maria di Pace in Brescia. It was the vicar-general of Cremona who had 
then drawn up the act in canonical form; the notarial act of the juridical 
intimation, or “processo fulminato”, had been drawn up in the normal 
way. 43 

Cozzano had wondered why the bishop of Verona had been chosen. 
Faino seems to give him an answer in the text quoted above, justifying 

40 D24, [f.972r]. We feel we must draw attention to how Rinaldini, Edi^ione anastatica, op. cit . , 
p.297, reports this passage of Cozzano: “Io non so per quale fine le nostre governatrici avrebbero 
domandato il Vescovo di Verona come protettore, omettendo di indirizzarsi al nostro seggio episco- 
pale che ci e sempre stato totalmente favorevole, che e il nostro naturals protettore. Esse, se lo hanno 
fatto lo hanno fatto con malizia, ingiustamente, senza domandare 1’opinione del consiglio...”. (“I do 
not know to what purpose our lady-governors have asked for the Bishop of Verona as protector, 
failing to address themselves to our own episcopal see which has always been completely favourable 
towards us and which is our natural protector. If they have done this, they have done it unjustly and 
maliciously, without seeking the opinion of the Council”). By the way he has distorted the original 
meaning, Rinaldi shows clearly that he did not understand Cozzano’s text correctly. Moreover, he 
should have indicated that the words italicised by us were not Cozzano’s, but his own, inserted in 
the text to express his own personal view. 

41 L. RoCKINGHR, Briefsteller und Eormelhiicher , Mtinchen 1863 (anastatic repr. New York 1961], 
p.198, note 2; cf. also pp.463-464. 

2 JOSH RUYSSCHAKRT, article “Cornaro ou Corner, Cornelius”, in Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Geo- 
graphic ecclesiastiques , t.XHIe, Paris 1956. 

s GIUSEPPE Zigli ANI, R accolta di memorie per la storia della Congregaqione dei Preti dell' Oratorio di S. Fi- 
lippo Neri in Brescia detti della Pace , dalla loro origine nel 1550... fino ai nostri giorni, Brescia, tip. 
Vescovile di G. Bersi e C., 1879, vol.I, pp. 118-123. 


the choice: “directa Episcopo Veronensi uti proximo” - he was the 

This bishop, Pietro Lippomano, had succeeded Gian Matteo Gi- 
berti (who had died in December 1543) after having occupied the see of 
Bergamo. Paul III had transferred him to Verona on 18 February 1544, 
but he had made his entry into the city of the Della Scala lords only on 
26 October. 44 

The first of the three executors nominated to execute the Bull was 
therefore a person of note in the ecclesiastical world of Verona. 

The other two executors were the “dignitates” most in the public 
eye in the Church at Brescia because they carried out the two most im- 
portant capitular offices. For several years they would continue to follow 
closely the vicissitudes of the Company. 

Aurelio Durante, the son of Girolamo, belonged to a family where 
there were quite a number of ecclesiastics 45 who sometimes held high 
positions in the Church. 

His uncle Pietro, whilst still a young man, had been at the court of 
Alessandro Farnese. When the latter had ascended the pontifical throne, 
he had nominated him “datario” and had made him bishop of Termoli. 
Previously he had been archdeacon at Brescia, then vicar-general. He 
was considered to be a very honest man, learned and kind. He had died 
in 1539. 46 

But our attention is focussed on Durante, Aurelio’s brother, for 
reasons which we will give later. Durante Duranti also had been apostol- 
ic protonotary, archdeacon, canon of Brescia, and then bishop of Al- 
ghero and later bishop of Cassano alio Jonio. Ten years after Paul III 
had ascended the pontifical throne, he had been created cardinal on 
19 December 1544. In 1545, when the “Umbrian Legation” was set up, 
Cardinal Durante Duranti was sent there as “legato a latere”. 47 It was there 
that the news reached him that Bishop Pier Paolo Vergerio was staying 
at Brescia, just as the latter was about to apostatize and leave the Catho- 
lic Church. The Cardinal hastened to warn Paul III about this in a letter, 
while at the same time he let him know about a personal experience he 
had had a short time earlier: he had discovered that his own doctor, a na- 

44 LORENZO Tacchella, Paolo IV e la nun^iatura in Polonia di Luigi Lippomano vescovo di Verona 
(1555-1557). Estratto da “Miscellanea Historiae Pontificiae”, vol.50, Roma 1983. GUGLIELMO 
Ederle, Di^jonario bio-bibliografico dei Vescovi di Verona , ediz. di Vita Veronese, Verona 1965. 

45 Paolo GUERR1NI, La famiglia Duranti ed i suoi Vescovi , in “Brixia Sacra”, Pavia, 1911, anno II, 
n.2, pp. 85-109. 

46 Ibid., pp.88-89. 

47 Pastor, Storia, op. cit ., V, p.501. 


tive of Orzi (a small place in the region of Brescia), who had left unex- 
pectedly on some excuse or other, also belonged to the heretical religion. 
The letter is dated: “Da Camerino, alii XI 1546” and expresses the 
Cardinal’s deep concern for the integrity of the doctrine of the Church. 

This is the passage which is of interest to us: 

“In addition I have some letters from Brescia; my family warn me, 
among other things, that the unworthy bishop Vergerio is there and, 
with great impudence, is going round sowing these heresies everywhere, 
and that many are listening to him and that, if nothing is done to remedy 
this, he will cause a lot of damage. I beseech Your Holiness to take the 
steps that your prudence deems necessary so that this poison may not 
spread further, because it seems to me that there are many who are se- 
cretly infected, so that we will not know from whom we must protect 
ourselves, because multi vestiuntur pellibus ovium, intrinsecus autem. etc. 48 

“I am telling you this because when I left Rome, I was given a doc- 
tor, very learned and well-mannered, and as he was from Iorci, a fief of 
Brescia, I accepted him; and I never saw anything but good exterior 
works from him. On Christmas Day he received communion with me 
and the other members of my house; and on the second day of the year 
he asked my permission to leave, saying that he had received notice, 
from a man sent expressly, that one of his brothers was very ill at Bo- 
logna and that he had to go there with all speed. 1 gave him permission 
to go, making him promise to return as soon as possible. And the fol- 
lowing day I was warned by Rome that he also de illis est. If it is God’s 
will that he should return, I will gladly punish him”. 49 

Vergerio, in his turn, would later direct a violent pamphlet against 
Cardinal Duranti: Del Cardinal Durante che ha posto in priggione un ambascia- 
dor di uno di maggiori principi dell’Imperio , 50 

48 Mt. 7:15. 

49 State Archives of Parma, Carteggio Farnesiano Estero: Camerino (1543-1563), d. 108/5. “Ulterius 
ho lettere da Bressa da li mei, et inter cetera mi avisano che il Vergerio, indegno vescovo, si trova li, 
e molto sfacciatamente va seminando de queste heresie, e che da molti li son prestate orecchie, a che, 
se non si li remedia, che fara molti inconvenienti. Suplico alia S.ta Vostra li piglii quello rimedio che 
alia prudentia sua li parera oportuno, perche questo veneno non vada piu dilatandosi, che mi pare 
che ce siano de molti infetti et occulti che hormai non saperemo da chi si guardare, perche multi 
vestiuntur pellibus ovium, intrinsecus autem , etc. 

“Questo dico, perche alia mia partita de Roma mi fu dato uno medico per molto dotto e de 
boni costumi, quale, per essere lui da Iorci, castello de Bressa, io lo accettai, ne mai ho possuto con- 
siderare se non bone opere extrinseche di lui. Et il giorno di Natale si comunico con me e con alcun 
altri mei familiari, et il secondo di de lo anno mi adomando licentia, con dire che haveva hauto aviso 
per homo aposta che uno suo fratello stava malissimo in Bologna, e che era necessitato de andar con 
prestezza. Et io li diede licentia, con prometterme ch’el ritornaria presto; et il di da poi hebbi aviso 
da Roma che ancor lui de illis est. Se Dio volesse che lui tornassi, volentieri li daria il castigo”. 

50 Tacchi VENTURI, Storia, op. cit ., vol.I, parte II, Documenti, p.141, n.2. 


The Cardinal then went on to speak about the fortress which Otta- 
vio Farnese had handed over to him and to plead on behalf of one of his 
brothers to be delegated as the one in charge of it. This kind of request 
was a typical expression of the prevailing nepotic mentality, a veritable 
sore within high circles in the Church, and which was particularly strik- 
ing in Paul III. Duranti’s letter concludes with this prayer: “I beseech 
you, give me your opinion about this as soon as possible so that I can 
send for my brother and give this satisfaction to all those of my housev 
hold ...”. 

It is almost certain that Bishop Durante Duranti (at the time of the 
Bull he was not yet a cardinal) had used his good services to obtain, with 
as many privileges as possible undoubtedly, this Bull which his brother 
Aurelio must have recommended to him. But that he might have almost 
used extortion to obtain it or have falsified its terms, 51 there is nothing to 
support this. Even more so as Paul III, from 1537 onwards, had wisely 
and firmly taken in hand the reform of the Roman Curia, beginning with 
the Datary, 52 and had shown a certain intransigence in suppressing the 
abuses. Thus, a cousin of Durante, Vincenzo Duranti, a datary and refer- 
endary of “Grace and Justice”, had been deprived of his office in 1541 
because of a scandal connected with finance which had broken out in his 
office. 53 

With regard to Cardinal Duranti, Pastor does not pass any personal 
judgment as he has done for many others, almost as if he was an insignif- 
icant figure, too inconspicuous. Referring to the nominations of cardi- 
nals on 19 December 1544, Pastor ends the list with the names of Du- 
rante de Duranti and Tiberio Crispo and adds: “With the exception of 
these last two, they were all eminent men who had distinguished them- 
selves in various ways in ecclesiastical office”, citing as his source: “Cia- 
conius III, 688 ss.”. 54 Further on, still in the same note, he writes: “Ac- 
cording to Massarf.i.i.i 55 ( Diarium I, ed. Merkle I, 195-196) the influence 

51 Ledochowska, Angela, op cit., II, pp.7-30 and 295-307, has given an explanation about the facts 
regarding the Bull and the Duranti family, but after having made a very careful study of these points 
and of the procedures used by the Roman Curia in the promulgation of the Bulls, we cannot agree 
with her version. 

52 “Thanks to the granting of favours, dispensations, privileges, indults and benefices reserved to 
the Pope, this office handed over to the Curia at least 110,000 ducats a year, a sum which repre- 
sented about half of the total income”. Pastor, Storia, op. cit., V, p.116. 

5i Guerrini, Da famiglia Duranti, op. cit., pp. 92-93. 

54 Pastor, Storia, op. cit., p.482. “Ad eccezione di questi due ultimi, trattavasi per tutti d’uomini 
egregi, che s’erano variamente distinti in uffici ecclesiastici”. 

55 Angelo Massarelli, secretary of the Council of Trent, compiler of innumerable acts, indefatigable 
memorialist, author of numerous Diari. “Massarelli attribuisce all’influsso di Costanza Farnese, avi- 
da di danaro che avrebbe ingannato il Papa, l’elevazione (strana data la solita prudenza di Paolo III 
nelle nomine) di Durante e Crispo, i quali erano affatto indegni del cappello rosso”. 


of Costanza Farnese, a woman greedy for money, who had probably de- 
ceived the Pope, explains the elevation to the cardinalate, surprising in 
itself, given that Paul III was usually prudent in his nominations, of Du- 
rante and Crispo, who were entirely unworthy of the red hat”. 

Pastor confines himself to passing on these comments, but without 
discussing or justifying them, or without explaining the nature of the un- 
worthiness. He has certainly not shown any particular interest in Cardi- 
nal Durante in his volume on Paul III. 

One thing that can be said in favour of Cardinal Durante Duranti is 
that when he was nominated bishop of Brescia in 1551, he immediately 
announced a pastoral visit of the diocese. He started with the cathedral, 
but did not visit further afield as he thought it was more expedient 
to promulgate some diocesan Constitutions. 56 Therefore he published a 
booklet repeating the juridical prescriptions which had already been laid 
down at the time when Gian Pietro Ferretti had been vicar-general; but 
Durante’s version is imbued with a breath of spirituality which was lack- 
ing in the former, limited sometimes to a short variant, but at other 
times permeating a whole passage. This can be seen by comparing in the 
two works the chapter entitled “De laycis non omni die communican- 
dis”. 57 

Aurelio Durante, the Cardinal’s brother, was born about I486, 58 and 
was the eldest of five brothers and two sisters. In his 1548 “polizza 
d’estimo” he declared that he kept at home his sister Paola, aged 43 
years, unmarried and ill. 

His name appears in the list of the first councillors of the Hospital 
for Incurables, the seventh among those elected on 11 May 1521; on 
20 May 1538 he is reported as being syndic of the hospital. His name con- 
tinues to appear for a long time in the acts of the hospital and it also 
appears several times in the Secondo Libro Generate of the Company. 

The other executor of the Bull, Donato Savallo, is also inscribed on 
the list of the first councillors of the Hospital for Incurables on 11 May 
1521; he is the sixteenth on the list. His name will be mentioned fre- 
quently in the minutes of the Council. From his 1534 “polizza d’esti- 
mo” 59 it can be deduced that he was born about 1490; in it he states that 
he is an archpriest and doctor. The following declaration, dated 1548, is 

56 Constitutiones Rmi D. Durantis de Durantibus, op. cit. 

57 FKRRKTTl, Constitutiones , op. cit., ch.XIII, “De laicis omni die non communicandis”, f.[62]r-v; 
Duranti, Constitutiones, op. cit., ch. “De laycis non omni die communicandis”, f.6r-v. 

58 PE, n.48. 

59 PE, n.119. 


in the name of “Jacomo Francesco Savallo, a member of the clergy, son 
of the late messer Cypriano Savallo, whose uncle, messer Donato Sa- 
vallo, is responsible for presenting the declaration”. Giacomo Francesco, 
for his part, had in his house “his unmarried sister Leonora, more than 
twelve years old, and his sister Caterina who is more than twelve years 
of age. 59b 

Such is the biographical information we managed to discover 
about the three executors of the Bull. With regard to their role, it is set 
out clearly in the purview of the Mandate addressed to them. This again 
followed a common procedure: at the request of the government of the 
Company, the three executors, or two, or even one, had to take steps to 
see that the contents of the Apostolic letter were published and that they 
were observed, to protect the beneficiaries from any possible opposition 
and threaten those unwilling to comply with the usual canonical sanc- 
tions. 60 

By virtue of the authority entrusted to the three executors, Aurelio 
Durante set in motion the canonical process in view of the official notifi- 
cation of the Bull to the diocesan bishop of Brescia represented by his 

c) The executory process 

The “iter” of the Bull, from its emission to its promulgation, was 
rather long. But delays such as these were quite normal. The date, as we 
have already said, was that of the day written by the datary at the bottom 
of the petition and indicated when the favour requested had been 
granted. But then all the official procedures had to be followed: the 
drawing up of the minutes, the writing of the texts into the register, the 
transcription on to parchment of both the principal Bull and the 
executory Mandate, until at last the end of the curial itinerary was 
reached when the “frati del piombo” affixed the lead seal. 

The transmission of the Bull also had its own procedure and it used 
to take a long time because the Bull had to be communicated to the 

We have already mentioned the Brief sent to the Abbess of Santa 
Maria di Pace. It carries the date of 2 December 1541, 61 but its promulga- 

59b “Jacomo Francesco Savallo, filiol chierico fu di messer Cypriano Savallo, del qual messer Donato 
Savallo suo barba ha la cura, che presenta essa polizza”... “Leonora sua sorella nubile, che excede 
l’eta de anni 12; Caterina sua sorella che excede l’eta de anni 12”. 

60 D19. 

61 ZlGLlANl, Raccolta, op. cit ., p.122. 


tion took place on 23 January 1543 at the same time as the correspond- 
ing executory process, and the official intimation or “fulminazione” to 
the vicar-general Annibale Grisoni was carried out on 27 January that 
same year. 62 

The Bull “Regimini Universalis Ecclesiae” bears the date “anno In- 
carnationis MDXLIIII, quinto Idus junii, pontificatus nostri anno X”. 
Granted therefore on 9 June 1544, it was made public on 14 April 1546 
according to the normal canonical procedure. Faino gives an account of 
the final stages of the Bull “in loco”: “Extat quoque processus conditus, 
et legitime canoniceque fulminatus ad publicationem, intimationem et 
executionem Bullae supradictae, rogatus a Io. Baptista Trappa Brixiae 
notario, sub die 14 Aprilis 1546 et die 29 eiusdem intimatus, traditusque 
Ordinario loci, ut in eodem apparet”. 63 

The executory process 64 in canonical form, which was required by 
the procedures of the Roman Curia, was intimated on 14 April 1546 by 
the notarial act drawn up by the notary Giovan Battista Trappa, in the 
presence of Don Agostino Gentile and Don Francesco Berri, respec- 
tively canon and priest of the cathedral. The executor was Aurelio Du- 
rante, to whom Lucrezia Lodrone had presented the Bull. 

The process was not a matter concerning just the diocesan ordinary 
and his vicar-general, or even the high-ranking ecclesiastics, but also all 
those who — men and women, in Brescia or elsewhere - had or might 
have an interest in the Company, both then and in the future: “omni- 
busque aliis et singulis utriusque sexus personis, tarn ecclesiasticis quam 
secularibus in civitate et dioecesi Brixiensi ac alias ubilibet constitutis, 
quorum interest, intererit aut interesse poterit, quomodolibet in futurum 
quoque infrascriptum tangit negotium, seu tangere poterit, quibus- 
cunque nominibus censeantur, et quacunque prefulgeant dignitate”. 65 

This preamble was followed by the text of the executory Mandate, 
with the text of the principal Bull inserted in the appropriate place. On 
the strength of these, Durante officially gave the order to execute, with- 
out any contestation, all the measures contained in it. In case of any op- 
position, he brandished the threat of the canonical punishments which 
would be imposed according to the praxis then in force; in other words, 
they would be preceded by the appropriate